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Obama's Staff Uses Autopen to Sign 'Fiscal Cliff' Legislation

No signing ceremony.

6:01 AM, Jan 3, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
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President Barack Obama's staff used an autopen (a machine that mimics one's signature) to sign the "fiscal cliff" legislation that Congress passed on New Year's Day. There was no ceremony or photo-op for the autopen bill signing.

Obama reading

First, the White House announced that "the President signed into law." "On Wednesday, January 2, 2013, the President signed into law," said press secretary Jay Carney, suggesting that Obama had physically signed the bill. "H.R. 8, the "American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012," which makes permanent the temporary rates on taxable income at or below $400,000 for individual filers and $450,000 for married individuals filing jointly; permanently indexes the Alternative Minimum Tax exemption amount to the Consumer Price Index; extends emergency unemployment compensation benefits and Federal funding for extended benefits for unemployed workers for one year; continues current law Medicare payment rates for physicians' services furnished through December 31, 2013; extends farm bill policies and programs through September 30, 2013; and provides a postponement of the Budget Control Act's sequester for two months."

Within thirty minutes, the White House seems to have directed the pool reporter to send this note to reporters, from an unnamed "senior White House official": "We received the ['fiscal cliff'] bill late this afternoon, and it was immediately processed. A copy was delivered to the President for review. He then directed the bill be signed by autopen."

A couple hours later, the pool reporter again appears to have been directed to send this message to the press: "The fiscal cliff bill was received late this afternoon when POTUS was already here. A copy was delivered to POTUS. He reviewed the copy and directed the legislation to be signed by auto pen," writes the pool reporter. The reporter specifically notes that another bill, a defense bill, was physically signed by the president himself yesterday.

The pool reporter sends along a link to a "Department of Justice legal brief on the subject" of bills being signed by the autopen. Here's the link, which says, according to the memo from a deputy assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, that the practice is legally fine in theory.  

George W. Bush, though, never signed a bill with an autopen. Obama has now done it 3 times.

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