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Why it matters that Joe Biden has never cast a tie-breaking vote
Joe Biden is one of just three vice presidents who haven’t cast a single tie-breaking vote in the Senate during a complete term. But it’s not just a trivia item. Here are seven reasons why this is important.
Digital First Media· Thu, Jan 24 2013 06:54:32
1. It’s literally his only job.
Article I, Section 3
of the U.S. Constitution, the vice president breaks any ties in the Senate. (As former Vice President Al Gore
used to joke
, whenever he had to vote, he always won.) Other than taking over if the president dies or falls ill, casting tie votes is literally the vice president’s only constitutional duty.
2. Of 47 vice presidents, only 12 never cast a tie-breaker.
Vice President Dan Quayle and wife Marilyn arrive in Tokyo in 1990. (AP Photo/Sadayuki Mikami)
In most cases that was because they
served less than a year
: John Tyler, William King, Andrew Johnson, Thomas Hendricks, Teddy Roosevelt and Gerald Ford. Others didn’t serve a full term: Calvin Coolidge, Lyndon Johnson and Nelson Rockefeller. Only Charles Fairbanks, Dan Quayle and Biden served a full term, but weren’t called on to vote.
3. It’s a sign of how aggressive Democrats were at first.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Between 2009 and 2010, Democrats had between 57 and 60 votes in the Senate (including independents who caucused with them), a comfortable margin to pass legislation. In 2011 and 2012, that narrowed to 52 or 53 votes, however.
4. It’s also a sign of how much the filibuster is used.
Bernie Sanders’ "Berniebuster" Filibuster on Keith Olbermann — 12/10/10mmflint
increasing use of the filibuster
in the Senate means that it often takes 60 senators to bring a bill to a vote. It’s mathematically unlikely that a piece of legislation could overcome a filibuster but then tie 50-50 on the actual vote.
5. And it’s a sign of congressional gridlock.
The U.S. Capitol is lit at night in 2011 as members work late to avert a government shutdown. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
“The lack of ‘productivity’ of the 112th Congress generally and the increasing use of filibuster in the Senate means less votes and thus less opportunities for a tie,” he wrote in an email.
6. The lack of tie-breaking votes could hurt Biden.
Vice President Al Gore in 2000. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
The vice president’s official job duties are pretty light, so Biden may regret not having more opportunities if he runs for president in four years, as expected. In his 2000 campaign for president, Gore raced back to Washington
using his duties as a pretext
, as Newsweek explained:
“Gore wanted to be on hand, just in case he was needed to cast the tie-breaking vote on an abortion-rights amendment being considered by the Senate. The amendment passed easily, 80 to 17, but that didn’t prevent Gore from grandstanding on his role. ‘My job is to preside over the Senate. And in the event there is a tie vote, the Constitution provides that I am the vote,’ Gore said. ‘The issue is so important and I am not going to take a chance to see it fail.'”
7. On the other hand, it might help him.
Vice President Joe Biden in 2013. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Gore cast another tie-breaking vote to require federal background checks at gun shows, a measure that failed in the House. He trumpeted that vote in his primary campaign against Bill Bradley, but then faced criticism during the general election campaign against George W. Bush. When he lost to Bush, many Democrats
backed away from gun control
as an issue.