- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 1, 2002

Of all the monuments and statues that can be found on the National Mall, the Vietnam War Memorial is one of the most moving. Its simplicity the long wall, engraved with the names of America's war dead is a stark reminder of the cost of war few can fail to understand. But a war that divided our nation, and the only one in which America suffered defeat, is still a subject about which most Americans know too little. Taking a small step to remedy that, Sens. Chuck Hagel and John McCain are offering legislation to allow construction entirely at private expense of an underground education center at the Vietnam Memorial. Last week, Sen. Phil Gramm and others prevented the legislation from being passed by unanimous consent.

The education center legislation has strong bipartisan support in the House and the Senate, and the president has indicated he approves. But the congressional equivalent of Murphy's Law seems to have it caught in a trap it may not wriggle out of this year. Finding space on the Mall to build anything is about as easy as finding a parking space near it on the Fourth of July. The National Park Service is struggling with plans for the World War II memorial and other projects that are fighting for space.

Backers of the education center were greatly disappointed by the failure of the bill to pass by Memorial Day. They felt rightly that passage of the bill by Memorial Day would add something to the momentum behind it, boosting the chances of enactment this year. Supporters were angry that Sen. Gramm took the Park Service's side based on a provision of the bill that precludes any other memorials from being built anywhere on the Mall. But their disappointment has led them to use more fevered rhetoric than is justified, which will not help their cause. Mr. Gramm supports the basic bill, but opposes the language preventing any other memorials from being built.

The education center seems lost in the congressional kabuki dance that precedes election year adjournments. Mr. Hagel is committed to the education center, and wants to see the authorization pass this year, as does Mr. McCain. Mr. Gramm also supports the center, and is willing to go along with the legislation if the ban on other memorials is removed. The National Park Service is rightly concerned about legislation that would stop other possible memorials from being built. But while they all play Alphonse and Gaston, waiting for each other to act, the education center isn't being built. All three senators should tell their staffs to get together and work this out, and the Park Service should focus on this project long enough to help them reach a compromise. Stop digging in, everyone, and start breaking ground.

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