Congress May Cap Spending on Official Portraits, Because, Priorities

The good news: the Senate has proposed a bipartisan bill! The bad news: that bill intends to cut federal spending on official portraits, which is not something most people really care about. The bill, called the Responsible Use of Taxpayer Dollars for Portraits Act, was introduced by Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Tom Coburn. It intends to restrict spending on official portraits to $20,000 apiece, and to limit federally-funded portraits to people directly in line for the presidency.

If the Act passes, that will mean the president, vice president, speaker of the House, president pro tempore of the Senate, and various cabinet members can get the funds to pay artists. But if officials who aren't in those categories want a picture (or if a sanctioned official wants an extra-expensive portrait), they're on their own.

The bill complements a similar act currently stalled in the house, which is entertainingly dubbed the EGO ("Eliminate Government-funded Oil-painting") Act. It simply bans federally funding for portraits of congresspeople and agency heads and is backed by 13 Republicans.

Capping the cost of a painting at $20,000 may seem excessive, but that's reportedly less than half of what the government has been known to pay for such official portraits. Although portraits have in the past come in at under $10,000, some have reportedly cost nearly $50,000, and at least two $40,000 portraits have been commissioned for appointed officials not in line for the presidency. $180,000 in federal funds were reportedly spent last year on the paintings.

Defending the bill, Coburn said, "Hardworking taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for lavish official portraits, especially when government officials spend more on paintings of themselves than some Americans make in a year."

That's true, but compared with all of the economic problems the government could be solving, $180,000 in paintings sounds more like bipartisan glad-handing than a substantial change. But at least it's a start?

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