A Big Time tiebreaker

The founders of the US Constitution really did not think through the vice presidency very well. Originally, they let it be filled by the candidate who came in second in electoral votes, which created two problems that they did not anticipate: It could mean a president and VP of different parties, and it could mean a tie vote for president if a party failed to have one of its electors abstain. (The latter led to an election crisis in 1800-01 that nearly destroyed the young republic.) These two problems were fixed by a subsequent constitutional amendment. But left unfixed today is another anomalous provision: that which effectively gives the executive branch two votes in the case of a tie in the Senate–one to break the tie, and then a second if the bill reaches the President’s desk.

The only constitutional role of the vice presidency, aside from filling a vacancy in the presidency, is to cast votes in the Senate in case of a tie. I must confess that I have never understood the rationale for this provision (perhaps it is buried deep within the Federalist Papers). Since political parties arose to contest presidential elections with executive tickets, the result has been, in effect, to give the president a second vote on legislation. The president already has a vote–in the form of signing or vetoing a bill–on every piece of legislation. The tiebreaker provision gives him, through the vice presideny, a vote to send to his desk something that otherwise would have been defeted. A tie is a defeat, and what is so special about a tie vote–as opposed to, say, a two-vote defeat of a bill–that in this one case we give the executive the right to decide the matter?

Before the rise of partisan tickets, this was not an issue, as the VP would be, on average, as likely to oppose as support the president. But the tie-breaking provision should not have remained in the Constitution once the document was amended to take account of partisan tickets.

Really, there is no good constitutional reason to have the Vice President interrupt his visit of hope and help to the victims of the calamity in the Himalayas to rush home just to cast a vote to rescue the president from the potential calamity of an embarrassing defeat.

The tie-breaker vote should be taken away from the vice presidency. This was the 243d time in US history that a VP has cast a vote in the Senate. None of these men was ever elected to cast a legislative vote, yet this archaic provision persists.

Actually, I would prefer to abolish the vice presidency altogether–or perhaps recognize the de facto Big Time role that the current occupant of the office has played and convert it into a prime minister-like office instead.


(And, yes, I felt the same way about Al Gore’s tiebreaking votes, but I did not have a blog then!)

5 thoughts on “A Big Time tiebreaker

  1. Pingback: Fruits and Votes

  2. The Senate is hideously malapportioned, so giving the executive branch an extra vote there – to a small degree – does restore some power to America’s population majority. (yep, I know that this administration didn’t win a plurality anyway, but that’s another problem).

  3. Pingback: Fruits and Votes

  4. Nebraska has a lieutenant-governor with a tie breaking vote in the unicameral legislature. It would be interesting to know how many of the several United States have lieutenant-governors with either or both of succession rights and a tie breaking vote.

  5. (18 July 2016) Here’s my theory: that by picking a “boring,” conservative, establishment Republican like Mike Pence as his vice-presidential running mate, Donald Trump has made a very (electorally) smart move. Not because it will not bring any Democrats into the Republican column, or sway [m]any wavering lodges: rather, what Pence does bring to the 2016 GOP ticket is a face-saving way for the “#NeverTrump” crowd to return to the party fold in November and vote the party ticket, no doubt “holding their noses.”
    A whole swag of NATIONAL REVIEW columnists can now say “The situation has changed. I’m not voting for Trump; I’m voting for Mike Pence — and, of course, keeping Hillary Clinton out of the White House.” They can further bolster this by saying that, if the GOP wins, Trump will no doubt grab all the glamorous, ceremonial parts of the presidential role but leave the actual governing to his vice-president, like Bush II with Dick Cheney: Pence can run the federal government in the same uneventful, predictable way that he’s run Indiana. Also, if (as the wags have joked) Trump gets bored 18 months into the job and quits to become president of some much younger Eastern European nation instead, Pence is there to step up. For possibly the first time in 240 years, a president leaving office would mean less constitutional disruption than a president staying in office…
    I still think Clinton will win but I now predict that the absolute number of votes for the GOP ticket will be higher than it would have been with a different Veep nominee.

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