File photo of an 'autopen' device, one of which was used by Obama to sign the 'fiscal cliff' legislation from his holiday in Hawaii. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Fiscal cliff

Obama signs 'fiscal cliff' deal into law (with an autopen)

The President puts a firm end to major spending cuts, for now – using a novel (but legally questionable) piece of kit.

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has signed a bipartisan Bill to avoid the effects of the ‘fiscal cliff’.

The legislation, which extends tax cuts to families earning under $450,000 a year, delays an automatic across-the-board cut in government spending until March 1, giving Democrats and Republicans two more months to come up with alternative ways of cutting government spending.

The legislation will be the last to be formally passed by the existing Congress, as the mandates for members of the House of Representatives lapses today.

The new House – featuring about 80 new faces – convenes later today, while the Senate will welcome some new faces following elections to fill a third of its seats. The 100 members of the Senate are elected for six-year terms, with a third of its population up for re-election every two years.

Obama, who has returned to Hawaii to resume a family holiday that was interrupted by the political logjam, signed the legislation using an ‘autopen’ – a device which accepts remote instructions to operate a pen and affix a signature. It is the third time that legislation has been signed into law in this way.

Critics argue that the autopen idea may be unconstitutional because the President is not himself affixing a signature to the Bill, as is formally required by the constitution.

However, the administration of George W Bush declared that as long as the president’s signature is being affixed at his own command, there are no such issues. It is thought that similar logic could be used if a president had sustained a physical injury which left them unable to hold a pen.

The device was used because US parliamentary rules demand that the president’s signature be affixed to the same physical copy of a Bill that has already been signed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

Read: Stock markets like it when there’s no Fiscal Cliff

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