WASHINGTON – Round 5 a.m. Friday within the nation’s capital, bleary-eyed senators who had spent hours debating a COVID reduction invoice regarded as much as see Vice President Kamala Harris presiding over the chamber.
Inside minutes, she would solid two necessary, tie-breaking voteson a funds decision, clearing the best way for what Democrats hope is the fast passage of a $1.9 trillion COVID reduction bundle that President Joe Biden sees as essential to ramp up vaccine distribution and get America again on its financial ft.
Harris’ vote might presage a busy legislative position for her: The doubtless tie-breaking vote in an evenly cut up Senate deeply divided over coverage. It is an motion seldom taken all through historical past, however could transform an important software the Biden administration makes use of to maneuver appointments and priorities Congress.
As vice chairman, Harris holds the title of Senate president, which, whereas largely ceremonial, means she can vote to interrupt ties on payments, court docket nominees and Cupboard appointments.
Even earlier than Friday’s votes, her very presence had made an affect. When Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff unseated two Republicans in Georgia’s Jan. 5 runoff election, the Senate turned evenly cut up between each events. Harris’ place mechanically gave Democrats management of the chamber.
She’s poised to reprise her position as tie-breaker within the coming weeks when the COVID reduction proposal, referred to as the American Rescue Plan, comes up for a remaining vote within the 50-50 Senate.
Tie-breaking alternatives could possibly be restricted
Although Harris has the deciding vote within the cut up Senate, she could not get a remaining say on a lot.
That is as a result of Harris solely has the authority to vote when the Senate is deadlocked at 50-50. Controversial measures reminiscent of curbing oil and fuel growth, efforts to reverse many years of systemic racial discrimination or broaden well being care are prone to be blocked Senate filibusters that require 60 votes to beat.
Harris will not be capable of take part in filibuster votes although she could also be a part of negotiations to seek out widespread floor.
The COVID reduction plan is totally different as a result of it is being handed a particular funds maneuver referred to as “reconciliation.”
That enables the Senate to move laws with a easy majority, passing Senate filibuster guidelines. The mechanism cannot be used to push payments that do not have a direct fiscal affect – so the alternatives for the vice chairman to interrupt ties on different points could possibly be restricted.
Harris herself has publicly mentioned she hopes she will not be breaking too many ties.
“I intend to work tirelessly as your vice chairman, together with, if mandatory, fulfilling this constitutional responsibility,” she wrote in a latest column for her hometown newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle. “On the identical time, it’s my hope that quite than come to the purpose of a tie, the Senate will as an alternative discover widespread floor and do the work of the American individuals.”
Vice presidents’ public prominence is basically tied to their position as the subsequent in line ought to a president die, resign or be faraway from workplace. Much less obvious and extra uneven is the affect they’ll wield in advising presidents on key insurance policies and appointments.
However in a hyper-partisan period the place so many main points fall amongst social gathering strains, Harris is poised to emerge as a consequential veep on legislative points personally delivering on Biden administration priorities within the Senate.
However whereas Harris’ early-morning votes have cleared the best way for an enormous reduction bundle, additionally they fed into a rising GOP grievance that Biden’s pledge to succeed in throughout the aisle was an empty promise.
South Dakota GOP Sen. John Thune, the second strongest Republican within the Senate, mentioned there was no must jam the funds decision provided that Congress has negotiated and handed 5 prior COVID reduction packages with overwhelming bipartisan help.
“Now could be the time for President Biden to point out whether or not he actually intends to stay as much as his inaugural pledge and unify our nation,” Thune mentioned in an announcement hours after the Senate vote. “Meaning not simply speak, however motion. It means working with lawmakers of each events to develop laws – not pushing completely Democrat measures.”
Biden has countered that the disaster calls for fast motion, telling Home Democrats throughout a non-public name Wednesday that paring his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan right down to the $618 billion proposed 10 Senate Republicans was “not even within the playing cards.”
Vice presidents differ on how usually they break ties
Regardless of the cut up Senate, historical past suggests Harris won’t get many alternatives to wield her tie-breaking vote over the subsequent 4 years.
There have been 268 events the place a vice chairman has damaged a tie, a comparatively modest quantity contemplating the primary Senate session befell in 1789. That is a little bit a couple of tie-breaking vote per 12 months on common, though there have been about 37 years when the nation had no vice chairman.
John C. Calhoun, who served beneath each John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, broke probably the most ties (31), whereas John Adams, beneath George Washington, got here shut with 29. However 12 no means solid one, together with Biden who spent eight years as Barack Obama’s second in command.
Simply weeks into her time period, Harris already has extra damaged ties (two) than Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Walter Mondale, who every had one.
The latest vice chairman, Mike Pence, broke 13 ties – probably the most a Senate president in practically 150 years – despite the fact that Republicans had no less than a four-seat benefit throughout his 4 years in workplace.
As Pence’s instance suggests, ties aren’t solely confined to 50-50 Senates. Solely two of the eight tiebreakers Vice President Dick Cheney solid befell when the chamber was evenly cut up in 2001.
Joel Okay. Goldstein, a St. Louis College Legislation Faculty professor and the writer of “The White Home Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden,” expects that Harris may outdo Pence given the even cut up within the Senate, the rising polarization on Capitol Hill and the power to dam affirmation of judicial nominees and high administration appointees.
“There are only a few vice presidents who solid extra tie-breaking votes per 12 months than Pence did,” he mentioned. “So in the event you determine that the Senate is extra evenly divided no less than for the subsequent two years you assume the chances of her casting some tie breakers can be larger.”
Not all tie breakers are the identical. With a rustic reeling from a pandemic and social unrest, Harris is already making an instantaneous affect with Friday’s votes on COVID reduction.
Harris might solid deciding vote on COVID reduction
Harris’ two tie-breaking votes had been every solid Friday morning, as soon as in favor of an modification and once more on passage of the general funds decision that cleared the best way for the COVID stimulus plan.
Her subsequent alternative to interrupt a tie could possibly be even larger: Last passage of the $1.9 trillion bundle, maybe inside weeks.
To date, no Senate Republican has expressed help for the president’s plan, foreshadowing one other cut up vote and one other look Harris, who with one vote might give the Biden administration its first main legislative victory.
If that occurs, Goldstein mentioned it might mark a “very consequential” vote a vice chairman in a chamber that has seen a lot of necessary tie-breaking moments.
Calhoun’s vote in 1832 denied future president Martin Van Buren an ambassadorship to Nice Britain. Al Gore’s vote in 1993 secured approval of President Invoice Clinton’s financial bundle funds that lowered the deficit and raised taxes on the wealthy. Pence’s vote in 2017 ensured passage of a measure giving tax breaks to households who home-school or ship their youngsters to personal or spiritual faculties.
The prospect of needing Harris to interrupt ties means Democrats might need to schedule key votes primarily based on the vice chairman’s availability. Which may restrict her capability to journey however her position because the president of the Senate 51st vote carries key political advantages as effectively, Goldstein mentioned.
“If she will get to interrupt a vote on one thing that’s actually necessary to Democratic constituents,” he mentioned. “She will put that on her political resume, despite the fact that she’s merely appearing as an administration loyalist.”