Argentina: VP Cobos joins opposition

boz notes that Argentine Vice President Cobos has announced that he will return to the Radical Civic Union (UCR) Party.

While this is a remarkable turn of events that I would not have anticipated, my position remains what I articulated after his high-profile vote in the Senate against a president-supported bill: I am surprised that major dust-ups between presidents and vice presidents are not more common.

And this is quite a dust-up.

boz notes that “The official statement from the government simply reminded Cobos that he has institutional duties.” Well, sure, but those institutional duties say nothing about what, if any, party he has to serve. Presidents and vice presidents may be nominated by parties, but they are institutionally autonomous from them (and each other!).

See also Two Weeks Notice.

Vice presidents and tie-breaking

This is oldish news, but then this never has been a news blog. (And the discussion continues in the comments!)

The week before last, the Vice President of Argentina, Julio Cobos, cast a vote in the Senate to break a tie on an important piece of legislation for President Cristina Kirchner. The vote was against the president’s declared preference on the bill.

I have no idea how common the provision for a VP to have a tiebreaking vote on legislation is in those countries that have a VP, let alone how often actual tiebreking votes occur. As I have argued before, the entire position of a vice presidency was one of the most poorly thought-out provisions in the original US constitution. Evidently most of the countries in Latin America that have a vice presidency have a similar tiebreaking provision, or at least Greg Weeks suggests that is the case. ((I wonder if such provisions exist even where the legislature is unicameral; and what about those countries that have more than one VP?))

It may be particularly rare for the VP to vote against the president, although it is not clear to me why we should expect the VP to always line up with the president, especially if the latter is unpopular and/or a constitutional lame-duck. Greg asks, “If you cannot control your own VP, then what does that say about leadership?” But I would ask, how should the president be able to control the vice president? Like the president, the VP is elected for a fixed term, and hence not institutionally subordinate to anyone. Unlike many presidents the vice president is almost always eligible to seek the presidency in the next election, and often ambitious. ((Kirchner, on the other hand, is eligible for reelection.)) Moreover, many VPs (though I do not know about Cobos) are selected from a rival wing of the president’s party or even from a different party.

It seems to me that, institutionally, we should not assume that VPs would necessarily cast their tiebreaking votes in favor of the president’s position on the item in question. In fact, if VP votes against the president are rare, I suspect it is simply a shortage of cases: VPs probably do not face many such opportunities to advertise their independence. But they might be expected to do so when given the chance, except in cases in which they really are well screened and handpicked by the president (which is the case, perhaps unusually, in the contemporary USA).

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. Continue reading