In Brief

No Money for Portrait Artists in Congress’s New Spending Package

Gilbert Stuart, "George Washington," (c. 1821) (Image via Wikimedia)
Gilbert Stuart, “George Washington,” (c. 1821) (image via Wikimedia)

Congress will vote on a new tax and spending package Friday that is expected to put the brakes on President Obama’s health care law and repeal a 40-year-ban on crude oil exports. And in case you wondered, not a dime of the $1.14 trillion dollar package will go to oil portraits.

According to Politicopage 590 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act states, “None of the funds made available in this or any other act may be used to pay for the painting of a portrait of an officer or employee of the federal government, including the president.”

It’s not new language, as it was also used in last year’s omnibus. But it echoes a growing push against using taxpayer dollars for commissioning oil portraits of elected officials. In January, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana introduced the Eliminating Government-Funded Oil-Painting (EGO) Act in the US Senate to put a full stop to taxpayer-funded oil portraits. “Tax dollars should go to building roads and improving schools — not oil paintings that very few people ever see or care about,” he said. 

Currently, portraits of the president, first lady, and certain members of congress are privately funded, but citizens still pay for many other government officials to sit for oil portraits. The price tags can soar into the tens of thousands of dollars. Donald H. Rumsfeld’s portrait cost a whopping $46,790, while John Ashcroft and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s portraits cost $40,000 and $38,350, respectively.

It’s easy to understand the push against the practice, as it has been estimated that eliminating it could save some $500,000 a year. But such savings would come at the expense of a rich artistic tradition that is already suffering. As long as Uncle Sam is giving massive tax breaks to alpaca farmers, he might as well commission a few oil portraits a year.

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