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Obama Drops Ceremonial Pen, Angering GOP

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
GOP Sens. Tom Coburn (above) and Lamar Alexander decried the White House’s stance on ceremonial signings as a sign of playing politics.

Senate Republicans are bristling that the president has cut down on one of his ceremonial duties: signing bills in public.

Most Republicans suspect the dearth of signing ceremonies is an election-year strategy in the mold of President Harry Truman's method of running against a "do-nothing" Congress. To trumpet legislative successes would run counter to the narrative of a hamstrung president, Senate Republicans say.

"I think that's his strategy," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said, adding that Senate Democratic leaders are helping President Barack Obama by focusing on partisan legislation that they know Republicans won't support.

Coburn called it a "shame" that the White House would take the approach that "'the only way I can win is to make someone else look bad, rather than win on my accomplishments and my leadership.' That is a tragedy."

The White House last held a signing ceremony in early February for a measure sponsored by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who resigned after recovering from being shot in the head at a constituent event last year. The law gives authorities greater powers to crack down on smugglers using low-flying, single-seater aircraft to slip drugs across the U.S. borders from Mexico and Canada.

But before that, the most recent event was held Nov. 21, on a law that repealed a statute that would have required federal, state and local governments to withhold 3 percent of contract payments for goods and services worth more than $10,000 starting in 2013. The bill also provided incentives for employers to hire veterans, an element of Obama's job-creation proposal.

Republicans contend the most egregious example of a ceremony omission was when Obama signed the deal to extend the payroll tax cut Feb. 22 with no fanfare. The deal was a long time coming, and Republicans argue it was a great example of bipartisan achievement that should have been noted with a signing ceremony.

"The president is working to create an economy built to last, and if there are opportunities to sign legislation into law with Members of Congress at his side, he will work to make them happen," White House spokeswoman Jamie Smith said. "The president, however, will not wait for a formal ceremony if it means that hardworking Americans see their taxes go up on their paychecks or their jobs put in jeopardy. The president looks forward to Congress sending him more legislation he can sign this year that gives everyone a fair shake, a fair shot and ensures everyone plays by the same set of rules."

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