Of­fi­cial portraits bumped off bud­get GOP changes ear­mark cul­ture

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Congress’ spend­ing bill funds the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Arts, but one art project fi­nally is get­ting cut off — the of­fi­cial por­trait paint­ings of pres­i­dents, Cab­i­net sec­re­taries and high-rank­ing mem­bers of Congress.

For the first time, the bill bans tax­payer money from fi­nanc­ing of­fi­cial por­trait paint­ings, many of which can’t even be viewed by the pub­lic. That is one of a num­ber of “pol­icy rid­ers” that ne­go­tia­tors at­tached to the mas­sive bill, most de­signed to tweak Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion poli­cies on items in­clud­ing coal and in­can­des­cent light bulbs.

Call them ide­o­log­i­cal ear­marks — the pro­vi­sions House Repub­li­cans de­manded to gar­ner enough con­ser­va­tive votes to pass the bill.

A decade ago, those votes would have been earned by old­style ear­marks — the pork-bar­rel projects in a law­maker’s state or dis­trict. With those ear­marks essen­tially banned, lead­ers earn votes by giv­ing law­mak­ers ide­ol­ogy-based talk­ing points to take back home.

“In­stead of say­ing, ‘Hey, it’s the best we could get,’ you can go back to vot­ers and say ‘We got a bunch of good stuff in this, it’s pos­i­tive, it’s mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion,’” said Michael McKenna, a Repub­li­can strate­gist who pre­dicted that the prac­tice will in­crease. “This is a fore­shad­ow­ing. When the Repub­li­cans take the Se­nate, this is go­ing to be­come a fairly rou­tine fea­ture of life.”

The House and Se­nate are rush­ing to pass the $1.1 tril­lion bill this week, ahead of a self-im­posed dead­line when gov­ern­ment fund­ing ex­pires.

Un­like Oc­to­ber, when ide­o­log­i­cal bat­tles over Oba­macare led to a gov­ern­ment shut­down, law­mak­ers on both sides of the aisle are look­ing for rea­sons to vote for the deal.

The agree­ment im­ple­ments last month’s bud­get deal, elim­i­nat­ing some of the se­quester bud­get cuts and ex­pand­ing fund­ing for de­fense, which Repub­li­cans wanted, and for do­mes­tic pro­grams, which Democrats fought to keep.

“As with any com­pro­mise, not ev­ery­one will like ev­ery­thing in this bill, but in this di­vided gov­ern­ment a crit­i­cal bill such as this sim­ply can­not re­flect the wants of only one party,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee. “We be­lieve this is a good, work­able mea­sure that will serve the Amer­i­can peo­ple well, and we en­cour­age all our col­leagues to sup­port it this week.”

Pres­i­dent Obama of­fered sup­port Tues­day, is­su­ing a state­ment of ad­min­is­tra­tion pol­icy say­ing he wants “swift pas­sage.”

The tax­payer fund­ing for portraits has be­come an is­sue in re­cent years af­ter The Wash­ing­ton Times and other news out­lets re­ported about the high costs of some of the paint­ings and found that they of­ten aren’t even avail­able for pub­lic view­ing.

In 2013, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment signed con­tracts for at least $200,000 worth of portraits, in­clud­ing $25,000 for a paint­ing of the Trea­sury Depart­ment sec­re­tary and $40,500 for a por­trait of the Ma­rine Corps com­man­dant.

Rep. Bill Cas­sidy, a Louisiana Repub­li­can who spon­sored what he called the EGO Act, or Elim­i­nat­ing Gov­ern­ment-funded Oil paint­ings Act, said it was about time Congress acted.

“Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers shouldn’t be called to sac­ri­fice to pay for van­ity paint­ings which are of­ten hid­den from the pub­lic,” he said. “This is a waste of money that is rightly be­ing elim­i­nated.”

Among the other rid­ers at­tached to the spend­ing bill are:

Another one-year de­lay in en­ergy ef­fi­ciency rules that ef­fec­tively would ban in­can­des­cent light bulbs.

Re­quire­ments that the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency re­port on its snoop­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing di­vulging to Congress the num­ber of phone records it has scooped up, the num­ber it has an­a­lyzed, and whether the phone meta­data col­lec­tion pro­gram has halted any ter­ror­ist plots.

A con­tin­ued ban on fed­eral fund­ing for abor­tions and a pro­vi­sion pro­hibit­ing the Dis­trict of Columbia from spend­ing its own tax­payer money on abor­tions.

Lim­its on fed­eral agen­cies’ spend­ing on travel and con­fer­ences.

A de­lay of rules poli­cies that would limit coal-fired power-plant con­struc­tion.

Lan­guage pre­vent­ing the Postal Ser­vice from end­ing Satur­day de­liv­ery or clos­ing many ru­ral post of­fices. The Postal Ser­vice ar­gues that it needs to take such ac­tion to be­come fi­nan­cially sol­vent, but many law­mak­ers say it would hurt small com­mu­ni­ties.


For­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush par­tic­i­pates in the un­veil­ing of his of­fi­cial por­trait in May 2012. The spend­ing deal would ban tax­payer money from fi­nanc­ing of­fi­cial por­trait paint­ings.

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