In addition to providing a second round of stimulus checks to struggling families, as well as aid to small businesses and enhanced unemployment benefits, the government's long awaited year-end deal will also fund two new museums in Washington that honor women and American Latinos.
In the deal, which includes $900 billion in coronavirus relief and $1.4 trillion in government funding, Congress has agreed to create the National Museum of the American Latino and the American Women's History Museum as part of the Smithsonian Institution. The funding for the two museums comes after Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) blocked separate bills for the institutions earlier this month, despite bipartisan support.
"At this moment in the history of our diverse nation, we need our federal government and the Smithsonian Institution itself to pull us closer together and not further apart," Lee said on the Senate floor, while arguing that the country doesn't need "separate-but-equal museums for hyphenated identity groups."
Lee's argument was immediately met with opposition by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who called Lee's objection to the legislation "outrageous," and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who said that "in a year where we're celebrating the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage, this is the time, this is the moment to finally pass the legislation unanimously recommended by an independent commission to establish an American Women's History museum in our nation's capital."
The fight to pass a bill for both museums has been ongoing for many years, with Collins being one of three senators who introduced a bill in 2003 to create a women's history museum. Eleven years later, in 2014, a congressional commission finally recommended building an American Museum of Women's History in Washington, D.C.
In 1994, a campaign to set up a Latino museum began after a report found that the Smithsonian "displays a pattern of willful neglect" toward American Latinos, reports The New York Times. In response to this report, the museum established a Smithsonian Latino Center in 1997. Then, in 2008, Congress established a commission to study the issue of "willful neglect" that was outlined in the report, which ultimately led Congress to recommend the creation of a museum for American Latinos.
On Monday, Menendez praised Congress for including a national museum for Latinos in its final annual spending bill, saying in a tweet that "this is a big win for Latinos all across our country."
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who sponsored the Smithsonian Women's History Museum Act, also praised Congress for including a national museum dedicated to women's history in its year-end spending bill.
"For too long, women's stories have been left out of the telling of our nation's history," she said in a statement, "but with this vote, we begin to rectify that. Americans of all ages deserve to see and be inspired by the remarkable women who helped shape this nation."
The passing of this bill, Maloney pointed out, comes at a time where the U.S. is celebrating the "centennial of the 19th Amendment and in the year in which we elected our first woman vice president."