Vice Presidential Proxy Voting
There have been a few stories recently speculating on how the Senate would function if the November elections resulted in a 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats. The standard answer is that that Joe Biden would have to spend a lot more time on Capitol Hill to cast his tie-breaking vote. While the practice has always been that a vice-president must cast his Senate vote in person, I wonder if that should be changed.
There are good reasons for not allowing proxy voting by House and Senate members. You might think part of the duty of being a member is to show up and cast votes. Verifying the accuracy of proxy votes could also be a problem, especially if an absent member is ill or in some remote place. Likewise, permitting proxy voting might give party leaders more power than they already possess by effectively delegating votes to them. (In this respect, you might say that voting in Congress is simply non-delegable.)
The Vice-President, though, is a different kettle of fish. He isn’t really a member of the Senate. He is only one person, so establishing the truth of his proxy should be easy. He will always vote the Administration line, so there is no risk that the Senate Majority Leader will get more discretion as a result of the VPs proxy. Moreover, the VP often needs to be elsewhere (on a diplomatic mission, in a national security council meeting), such that subjecting him to the whims of the Senate schedule could be a problem. Why not let him vote by proxy?
I should add (on a related note) that a 50-50 Senate tie could expose the fact that there is no procedure in place to deal with an ill or incapacitated vice-president. Suppose the VP has a stroke and cannot function for months. Then all of the ties would be actual ties. (Proxy voting would reduce but not eliminate this problem–no proxy could occur if the VP was in a coma.) I do not believe that the Senate was equally divided during one of the periods (prior to the 25th Amendment) where we had no vice-president at all, but I’m not sure.