Visitor Center A $621M Boondoggle?

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Four years overdue, the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington D.C. opened Tuesday amid great fanfare and excitement.

"This facility here is really … terrific, for lack of a better way to describe it," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Spanning five acres 50-feet beneath the Capitol, it's got lots of "really terrific" statues, artifacts, theatres, dozens of restrooms, and even a replica of the Capitol dome above, CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports.

Attkisson asked one visitor, a 9-year-old boy, "Do you have any rough idea of how much something like this costs?"

"Like, uh, 100 million bucks or something like that?" said Jamie.

Actually more, Jamie. Much more.

"People are telling you it's 'really nice' inside when you go to see it, but it's $621 million - it oughta be nice!" said Steve Ellis of the nonprofit group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

It was a vision that started out at $261 million dollars; but it crossed the finish line at $621 million.

Ellis calls it Congress' ego trip, skylights and all.

"There's these skylights that are up on the plaza, and they say, 'well, it's great that you can see the dome,' you know, through the skylight, which it's like, well, you can stand right here and see the dome," Ellis said.

Taxpayers who took the tour today enjoyed it, but they know it cost them dearly.

"It was probably an exercise in government inefficiency," one said.

Another tourist said, "It really is an expensive place to visit, that's for sure. And the restaurant's not cheap either, by the way."

No matter. At least visitors to the Capitol no longer have to wait in the snow or the sweltering sun, and isn't that what really counts?

"In the summertime, because the high humidity and how hot it gets in here, you could literally smell the tourists coming into the Capitol," Reid said. "That is no longer going to be necessary."

The brand new Capitol Visitors Center? Six-hundred and twenty-one million dollars.

Not having to smell sweaty tourists? Priceless.
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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.

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