GOP Sens. Tom Coburn (above) and Lamar Alexander decried the White Houses stance on ceremonial signings as a sign of playing politics.
The White House did make a big deal of the payroll tax cut, but it did so the day before it arrived on the president's desk. On Feb. 21, the president spoke about the agreement that had been reached, though Press Secretary Jay Carney said "it wasn't a celebration; it was an exhortation" to Congress to move more quickly.
The event "was meant to say, 'That's not enough, let's do more' and to note, as the president did, that we do not accept the conventional wisdom oft expressed by the various outlets represented here that Congress can't do anything this year because it's an election year," Carney added.
Senate Democrats argue that, while it was important to pass that legislation, the final bill was a patch rather than a permanent fix and raises the question as to why more has not been done to help the economy and create jobs.
"I think what the American people expect is that we have to do more with unemployment at this level," said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who pointed out that it was Republicans, particularly in the House, who spent months opposing the legislation before finally agreeing to support a short-term extension to avoid having the tax cut expire at the end of the year. "I think there will be a debate during the campaign about what has been accomplished."
The White House did hold events last year for other legislative victories, including for patent-reform legislation and trade agreements that were enacted.
But Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said the president is missing an opportunity to show that government can work by not holding more regular events when legislation becomes law.
"I actually think it would help the president to show that he can work with Congress," Alexander said. "I used to be a governor, which is a much smaller job, but whenever I could I used to have joint appearances with the Democratic leaders of the Legislature and I gave them a lot of credit for what happened. And people apparently liked it because I was re-elected. I am a little surprised at what appears to be a deliberate effort to keep quiet legislative accomplishments."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he isn't surprised if the president is indeed trying to back away from Congress given the state of the economy.
"It's hard to do a victory lap about how good I am as a president when the economy and gas prices are the way they are. They are probably smart," Graham said. "I think it would probably be ill-advised to pound their chest about any individual legislative accomplishment until the general economy improves."