Cliffhanger no more: Obama signs bill to avoid ‘fiscal cliff’


HONOLULU -- Passing legislation to avoid the “fiscal cliff” -- and undo income tax increases for most Americans -- was hardly automatic. But signing the bill was.

President Obama on Wednesday authorized the use of the “autopen” to enact H.R. 8, the compromise bill approved by lawmakers in the 11th hour after a long stalemate to avert the set of tax increases and budget cuts known as the fiscal cliff.

House aides said the American Taxpayer Relief Act was delivered to the White House on Wednesday afternoon, well after the president had left to resume his holiday vacation in his native state of Hawaii.

Rather than having the bill delivered to him, delaying its enactment, Obama directed his office to affix his signature using a mechanical device. A July 2005 memo from the Justice Department states that a president “need not personally perform the physical act of affixing his signature to a bill he approves and decides to sign in order for the bill to become law.”

PHOTOS: Scenes from the fiscal cliff

It is not the first time the president has used the autopen to sign legislation. One previous example was in May 2011, when it was used to sign an extension of the Patriot Act, while the president traveled overseas.

While in Hawaii two years ago, though, Obama personally signed legislation providing aid to first responders of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The White House released a photograph of the moment.

Obama landed in Hawaii in the early hours of Wednesday morning, after an overnight flight from Washington. After a brief stop at his rental home to reunite with family, he immediately launched into his vacation routines -- a morning trip to the gym and later a round of golf, both on the grounds of the secure Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

The White House noted that, in addition to the bill signing, Obama did conduct some other official business Wednesday. He placed separate calls to Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo of New York to discuss the status of Superstorm Sandy disaster assistance legislation that passed the Senate but was left unaddressed by the House of Representatives in the closing day of the 112th Congress.

House leaders say the chamber will address relief appropriations in the new legislative session.

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