The Mona Lisa, The Scream, The Tom Vilsack: All Pricy Pieces of Art

Nice article here by The Washington Times showing what some could argue is government excess by the Obama and Bush administrations. I think it’s certainly worthy to keep funding portraits of Presidents and Vice Presidents for history’s sake. However, does every cabinet official need a portrait at these costs? I get that women in future generations shouldn’t be deprived of John Ashcroft’s rugged good looks — or songbird voice, for that matter — but is this necessary?

The Environmental Protection Agency spent nearly $40,000 on a portrait of Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, while a painting of Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley will cost $41,200, according to federal purchasing records. The price tag for a 3-by-4-foot oil portrait of Agriculture Department Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack: $22,500.

All told, the government has paid out at least $180,000 for official portraits since last year, according to a review by The Washington Times of spending records at federal agencies and military offices across government.

Painting people high up in all branches of the federal government is a long-held tradition for Republicans and Democrats alike in Washington. Taxpayers picked up the tab for official portraits of top appointees in the Bush administration, too, including more than $40,000 spent on a painting of former Attorney General John Ashcroft, records show.

A portrait of former EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, another Bush appointee, cost about $30,000, according to EPA records.

Like most other agencies, USDA officials wouldn’t say one way or another whether the $22,500 it’s spending to commission a portrait of Mr. Vilsack signals his intent to leave the Obama administration.

“Consistent with previous administrations, the department has commissioned a portrait to be unveiled at some point following Secretary Vilsack’s tenure,” USDA spokesman Justin DeJong wrote in an email to The Times. “USDA solicited bids for the portrait and selected the lowest of five bids.”

In April, Mr. Vilsack hosted the unveiling of a portrait of former Bush USDA Secretary Ed Schaefer, a painting that cost $30,500, while the portrait of another former Bush USDA chief, Michael Johanns, cost $34,425, records show.

Ann Fader, president of Portrait Consultants in Washington, which represents portrait artists, said that because of policy, she could not discuss any specific government commissions. But she said some agencies start the search for an artist long before secretaries leave because paintings can take from eight to 14 months to complete and frame.

“These are done for future generations to see how we live now, and it’s really a tribute as well as part of a person’s legacy,” she said.

“It’s a tremendous privilege to paint a portrait of somebody as accomplished as these people,” she said, adding that agencies have made a “concerted effort to be cost conscious” over the past few years.

Not everyone agrees.

David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a watchdog group, questioned whether the government ought to be spending tens of thousands of dollars for oil paintings of Cabinet secretaries often outside the public’s view.

“It’s not like people are going to be lining up for an exhibit, ‘HUD Secretaries Through the Years,’” Mr. Williams said. “And just because it’s a Washington tradition doesn’t mean they have to keep doing it.”

CBO Calls Stimulus Resounding Success… I Mean Failure (I Don’t Understand Things)

As a mushy moderate, I’m in the unfortunate position of actually trying to seek out facts when it comes to economic policy — so contrived sound bites from people who are paid to BS me for a living don’t really do it for me (my apologies to Fox News and MSNBC). So, if you will, please take this brief journey with me as I try to sift through analysis on the impact of the federal stimulus package — all based on from what I can glean is the exact same report from the Congressional Budget Office, mind you.

Jay Bookman of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contends… the CBO says it was a "major success":

The Congressional Budget Office has released its latest assessment of the 2009 stimulus package and the economic impact of its various components.

According to the CBO analysis of stimulus provisions:

They raised real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) by between 0.3 percent and 1.9 percent,

  • They lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.2 percentage points and 1.3 percentage points,
  • They increased the number of people employed by between 0.4 million and 2.4 million, and
  • They increased the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by 0.5 million to 3.3 million. (Increases in FTE jobs include shifts from part-time to full-time work or overtime and are thus generally larger than increases in the number of employed workers.)

 Two other points:

  •  The CBO estimates that the impact of the stimulus will continue to be felt over the next year, increasing GDP by up to 0.8 percent next year and creating up to 1.1 million jobs over what it would have been.
  • The longterm economic impacts of increased borrowing to fund the stimulus will be minimal or nonexistent. “In contrast to its positive near-term macroeconomic effects, ARRA will reduce output slightly in the long run, CBO estimates—by between zero and 0.2 percent after 2016,” its economists predict.

The Washington Times relays… Nay, the CBO says it was but a short-term fix, but will cause negative long-term consequences, sucka!:

The Congressional Budget Office on Tuesday downgraded its estimate of the benefits of President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package, saying it may have sustained as few as 700,000 jobs at its peak last year and that over the long run it will actually be a net drag on the economy.

CBO said that while the Recovery Act boosted the economy in the short run, the extra debt that the stimulus piled up “crowds out” private investment and “will reduce output slightly in the long run — by between 0 and 0.2 percent after 2016.”

The analysis confirms what CBO predicted before the stimulus passed in February 2009, though the top-end decline of two-tenths of a percent is actually deeper than the agency predicted back then.

All told, the stimulus did boost jobs and the economy in the short run, according to CBO’s models. At the peak of spending from July through September 2010, it sustained anywhere from 700,000 to 3.6 million, which lowered the unemployment rate by between four-tenths of a percent to 2 percent.

The Obama administration had promised 3.5 million jobs would be produced at the peak of spending.

For this current quarter CBO said the stimulus is sustaining between 600,000 and 1.8 million jobs, which has improved the unemployment rate by as much as 1 percent versus what it otherwise would have been.

The White House did not return a message seeking comment Tuesday afternoon, but officials there previously have said the Recovery Act stopped the economy from falling into another Great Depression…

CBO has re-evaluated the stimulus every three months, and its estimates for the total cost have varied. Initially the package was pegged at $787 billion, rose as high as $862 billion at one point, and is now projected to be $825 billion once all the money is paid out.

The nonpartisan agency also has changed its model for the spending’s impact on the economy, and the new calculations show the Recovery Act did less than originally projected.

CBO said it has concluded there is less of an indirect multiplier effect of federal spending.

Those changes caused it to drop its estimates for total employment sustained by the spending in 2011 from between 1.2 million and 3.7 million down to between 600,000 and 3.6 million.

As for the long-term situation, CBO said its basic assumption is that each dollar of additional federal debt crowds out about a third of a dollar’s worth of private domestic capital.

CBO said there is no crowding out in the short term, which is why the Recovery Act boosts the economy in the near term.

So, in closing, the federal stimulus package was clearly a wonderful/dreadful initiative.

Business Blog: U.S. in No Position for Cap-and-Trade

Brandon Borgna of American Trucking Associations recently posted on BizCentral.org about the challenges that proposed cap-and-trade measures would place at the feet of the American business community. He writes:

Instituting a cap-and-trade program would require Congress to appropriate billions of dollars for the expansion of federal agencies such as the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in order to handle their expanded responsibilities, according to The Washington Times.
 
A cap-and-trade scheme would create the nation’s largest commodity market almost overnight, requiring the CFTC and other federal agencies to closely monitor the buying and selling of carbon "allowances," which give companies the right to emit carbon dioxide. The Congressional Budget Office reports that the government’s expansion would cost $8 billion over a 10-year period. For the bill to operate effectively, nearly 1,500 new regulations and mandates would have to be approved for at least 21 federal agencies. The rule-making process alone would take years.
 
"The problem is that there’s a mismatch between the government’s capacity and its mission," said Darrell M. West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
 
As estimates about the true cost of cap-and-trade continue to rise, Senate Democrats have begun jumping ship on the proposed legislation, news reports say. Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) have urged the Senate to delay legislation that puts caps on greenhouse gas emissions and instead, pass a narrow bill that sets requirements on the use of renewable energy.
 
It is becoming obvious that the White House’s ambitious agenda is simply too costly to put in place, said the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "At a time when our nation’s leaders are desperately trying to find a way out of this economic quagmire, why would Congress consider a bill that would not only impose a national energy tax on every household and small business in the country, but also further restrict our domestic energy production," the Review-Journal said.