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.
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. 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).
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. (more…)