12/12/2013 05:53 pm ET Updated Dec 13, 2013

Extravagant Price Tags On Official Portraits Inspire Bill To Cut Cost To Just $20,000

WASHINGTON -- Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) are pairing up to push proposed legislation to "rein in excessive spending" on oil paintings of government officials.

The bill, introduced Thursday, would limit the amount of taxpayer money that agencies can spend on official portraits to $20,000 a piece. If an official wants more spent on his or her image, the official can use "other funds" -- which is government speak for "pay for it yourself." The bill would also restrict such portraits to those officials in the order of succession for the presidency, but that includes just about every Cabinet-level official.

The bill follows a March 2013 report from ABC News that found the Obama administration had spent $400,000 on oil portraits of Cabinet members in 2011 and 2012. That followed a November 2012 report in The Washington Times that individual paintings were costing the government tens of thousands of dollars. A portrait of former Air Force Secretary Michael Donley cost $41,200, while the portrait of first-term Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson cost nearly $40,000. (Neither of those positions are in the line of succession.)

This past March, around the time the sequester cuts were taking effect, the Department of Defense issued a notice that it was commissioning a portrait of departing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, for which the department paid $31,200.

Expensive oil paintings are not a misstep made only by the Obama administration. A Washington Post story from 2008 found that the individual price tag for portraits of some Bush administration officials was nearing $50,000.

“At a time when vital services and programs are facing cuts, we need to be looking at every way we can stop excessive spending practices in Washington," Shaheen said in a statement. Coburn called the current spending "lavish," noting that government officials "spend more on paintings of themselves than some Americans make in a year."



Unveiling The Bush Portraits