Swing Votes, Leverage, and Vote Trading

Recently I wrote a column in which I suggest that President Biden should “Give them (those who are blocking the Build Back Better legislation) a freeway, an airport, a rail system, or maybe a football stadium. Name an aircraft carrier, battleship, or destroyer after them. Just cut the deal.”

I suspect more than a few readers find this approach to legislating a bit unseemly, and view vote trading akin to bribery, extortion and/or kidnapping and holding for ransom.

Welcome to the world of politics. Some issues gain broad-based support with minimal gamesmanship but when a “swing vote” is involved things can often get ugly.

When proponents are one vote short of the number needed to pass something, that final vote is considered the “swing vote”. The raw translation: If you want my swing vote, then you must give me something in return.

This is what’s called leverage.

A single legislator or in this case two, Senator Manchin (WV) and Sinema (AZ) are the Democratic swing votes needed in the U.S. Senate in order to pass the Build Back Better legislation.

Legislators are there to pass into law new public policy, increase or decrease funding for government programs, and fund and approve public infrastructure known as capitol improvement projects or CIP (roads, bridges, airports, harbors, etc).

What is an important policy, program, or CIP project for one legislator or one group of legislators, may not be important to another legislator or group of legislators. They may represent different geographical or demographical interest groups, and it’s not unusual that they have different perspectives, and priorities.

Consequently, when attempting to pull the needed votes together to actually accomplish something, different legislators or groups of legislators will “trade votes”.

To have integrity, vote trading must involve legitimate and necessary policy, programs, and/or CIP. For example: I’ll support building that new school cafeteria in your district this year, if next year you support building that much-needed highway in mine. Both are legitimate public needs, but the question is one of timing and priorities.

Another example: I‘ll support increasing the minimum wage if you support increased tax credits for small businesses. A legislator might not really think tax credits are necessary, but they might be willing to go along because of the greater good achieved by passing an increase in the minimum wage. Similarly, a legislator might detest increasing the minimum wage but can live with it if there were tax credits for small businesses.

A third example is the cross-trading of policy, programs, or CIP and totally unrelated items such as office staffing or committee assignments. A certain policy or program might be on the table for a vote, and a legislator who might represent the critical swing vote will say something to the effect that “I will hold my nose and support this policy change, IF I get this specific CIP project funded for my district, and if I get XYZ etc.”

This is how the sausage of lawmaking is accomplished at all levels of elective office – County, State and Federal. It’s not pretty, but barring the election of a strong majority with common values and vision, it’s how contrary positions ultimately come together to move the ball forward.

The fact that Senators Manchin and Sinema, both Democrats, are using their positions as swing votes to leverage the Democratic Majority and the Democratic President, is both shameful, and an egregious abuse of power. It’s unfortunate and equally shameful, that not one single Republican will cross over to support what has the potential to be the most significant legislation since FDR’s “New Deal” passed in 1933.

About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person and does not represent the official position of any organization I may be affiliated with. I presently serve as volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) www.hapahi.org I am the former Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. In another past life, I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator, and Majority Leader, and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. Please visit my website AND sign up for my newsletter (unlike any email newsletter you have ever gotten, of that I am sure) - http://www.garyhooser.com/#four “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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