President Signs FAST Act Into Law

Saturday, December 5, 2015 – 11:00 a.m.

Late yesterday afternoon, President Obama signed into law the FAST Act (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation), H.R. 22. There was no ceremony and no fanfare – just a simple statement from the White House that the President had signed the bill (which followed a presidential statement from earlier yesterday morning saying that the bill was “not perfect, but it is a commonsense compromise, and an important first step in the right direction”). The text of the enrolled bill as signed into law is here.

Someone asked ETW last night, “when was the last time that a multi-year surface transportation bill was signed into law without any public ceremony?” It took a few seconds to think of the answer, but first, here is a look back at recent highway bill signing ceremonies:

  • 2012 – MAP-21 – A White House signing ceremony (also late on a Friday afternoon) – video here.
  • 2005 – SAFETEA-LU – A ceremony where President Bush flew to Speaker Hastert’s district in Montgomery, Illinois to sign the bill into law at the Caterpillar plant – video here.
  • 1998 – TEA21 – A White House signing ceremony (technically, it was the Old Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House) – video here.
  • 1991 – ISTEA – A signing ceremony at a construction site in Euless, Texas, arranged to coincide with a presidential address the same day to an AASHTO meeting in Dallas – transcript here and article with photo here.
  • 1987 – STURAA – This one was signed into law over President Reagan’s veto – but Reagan did have a public ceremony in the Oval Office to sign his veto message – transcript here and list of VIP attendees here (Eno members and ETW subscribers only).
  • 1982 – STAA – A White House signing ceremony in the State Dining Room – transcript here and you can see a nice high-res color photo of the ceremony on the cover of our paper on the 1982 gas tax increase here.

You have to go all the way back to 1978 to find a highway bill signed or vetoed by the President without any kind of public ceremony. It was signed into law on November 6, 1978 – the day before the midterm Congressional elections – and Carter’s diary indicates he was at Camp David all day.

This week’s belated Eno Transportation Library Document of the Week is the White House memo presented to Carter to accompany the enrolled highway bill in 1978 (Eno members and ETW subscribers only). The memo said that while Carter had until November 8 to decide whether to sign it into law, his staff “recommend that you sign it by Monday, November 6, in order to generate some pre-election publicity that may be helpful to Jennings Randolph and other Democrats.”

Interestingly, the memo also recommends that Carter “call Senator Randolph and Congressman Howard (who will be chairing the Committee dealing with trucking deregulation next year) to inform him of your action.” Carter underlined that sentence and wrote “not done” next to it.

The memo also said that “we do not think a signing statement is appropriate for a bill this much above our budget” and the Public Papers of the Presidents for that date do not list any statement on the signing of the bill into law.

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