Everywhere a sign

Anne Wernikoff

One service deemed essential for Congress during the shutdown: printing and graphics.

As the debate over how to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling rages on, signs have become an important prop in lawmakers’ arguments.

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Both sides are using the visual aides to make their case.

“Open the government, pay our bills, and let’s negotiate,” read the sign behind Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Tuesday when he called all senators to the floor to make a plea to end the shutdown.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had a sign behind her when she took to the House floor Tuesday to appeal to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to reopen the government.

And Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) brought a poster of a credit card to the Senate floor Tuesday — only to cut it up.

“Our country is bankrupt,” Coburn said before using a pair of scissors to slash the fake credit card, which he said represented Washington’s credit. “We should cut this credit card up. … In fact, I think I’ll just tear it up.”

The printing of the signs is done in-house. Each chamber has its own printing and graphics shop to fulfill lawmakers’ requests.

And while some of those employees are furloughed, sources within the shops say there’s been no delay in making the signs.

The Senate Printing, Graphics and Direct Mail operations, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Senate sergeant at arms, prints signs for the upper chamber.

And while the shop has “minimal staffing” during a shutdown, according to a source, it has met all of its printing deadlines.

Across the Capitol, the House has its own printing shop — with one big difference: Lawmakers in the lower chamber pay for the services out of their office budgets, while senators get their printing done free (it’s paid for by the office of the Senate sergeant at arms).

The shutdown has created a cutback in services: The House shop is only printing signs for the lawmakers to use on the floor.

If lawmakers need signs for other events, they have to go elsewhere. The Republican Conference, for example, is printing its own signs to use at leadership press conferences.

Separate from the House and Senate print shops is the Government Printing Office (GPO), which handles official documents like the Congressional Record and the Federal Register.

About 70 percent of GPO employees have been furloughed during the shutdown, according to a spokesman. The remaining employees are focused on printing official documents for Congress and the Register.

And while the Congressional Record is keeping them busy as the longer sessions and weekend work add up to a lot of printing, the Federal Register has been lighter than usual in the wake of the shutdown.

Wednesday was the second day in a row without any new proposed rules or regulations.

Normally, the Register runs hundreds of pages long and contains at least a handful of new rules every day.

The situation today is similar to the 1990s, when the last government shutdown took place.

But no sign in this shutdown has gained the infamy of one from the showdown between then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and then-President Clinton.

That debate is most remembered by the infamous New York Daily News’s cover with a caricature of an infant Gingrich — crying and holding a bottle — with the headline, “Cry Baby: Newt’s tantrum.”

The headline was the result of Gingrich complaining he had to get off the back of Air Force One when he traveled with Clinton to Israel for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral.

Democrats, led by then-Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), blew up the front page of the paper and used it as a prop on the House floor.

They promptly got in trouble for it in the GOP-controlled House, which voted 231-173 to stop Democrats from bringing the prop to the floor because it violated a rule that prohibits members from “bringing disrespect” upon other lawmakers or the House itself.

“It became a battle on the floor because it really captured some of the personality of those involved,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), who was one of the lawmakers touting the Daily News headline.

“It did capture some of the moment.”

Julian Hattem and Ramsey Cox contributed.