Because of the delay, President Obama cut his Hawaiian vacation short and returned to Washington. After he had done all he could do, he returned to Hawaii to join his family to complete his Christmas vacation.
The Democratic-led Senate passed the bill 89-8 on Tuesday morning, Jan. 1. The Republican-run House approved the measure by a 257-167 vote late Tuesday.
By that time, the president was 4,700 miles away back in Hawaii. So, how was he going to sign the bill in time?
He signed the "fiscal cliff" bill into law on Jan. 2 by using an autopen; a mechanical device that copied his signature.
For this reason, you will hear a lot about the autopen in the next few days. So, let's set the record straight.
What is an autopen?
An autopen or signing machine is a device used for the automatic signing of a signature.
The first signature duplicating machines were developed John Isaac Hawkins. Hawkins received a United States patent for his device in 1803. In 1804, Thomas Jefferson began using the device extensively.
The modern autopen called the robot pen was developed in the 1930s and became commercially available in 1937.
It is rare for the autopen to be used in the White House. President Harry Truman is believed to have been the first United States President to use the autopen as a way of responding to mail and signing checks. Gerald Ford was the first President to openly acknowledge his use of the autopen.
Autopen devices are used today by politicians and fundraisers to sign letters to constituents written by administrative assistants and clerical staff, and by other famous people to sign autographs.
On May 26, 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama became the first president to use an autopen to sign a bill into law. While visiting France, he authorized the use of an autopen to create his signature which signed into law an extension of three key provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act.
Republican leaders have raised questions as to whether this use of the autopen meets the Constitutional requirement for signing a bill into law.
Therefore, there is surely going to be some questions about whether the use of the autopen was legal in the signing of the 'fiscal cliff' bill.