Pair / Logrolling
photo credit: dno1967b
A pair is a voluntary, informal arrangement that two lawmakers, usually on opposite sides of an issue, make on recorded votes. In many cases the result is to subtract a vote from each side, with no effect on the outcome. Pairs are not authorized in the rules of either chamber, are not counted in tabulating the final result, and have no official standing. However, members pairing are identified in the Congressional Record, along with their positions on such votes, if known. A member who expects to be absent for a vote can pair with a member who plans to vote, with the latter agreeing to withhold his vote.
There are three types of pairs:
(1) A live pair involves a member who is present for a vote and another who is absent. The member in attendance votes and then withdraws the vote, saying he has a live pair with colleague “X” and stating how the two members would have voted, one in favor and the other opposed. A live pair may affect the outcome of a closely contested vote, since it subtracts one “yea” or one “nay” from the final tally. A live pair may cover one or several specific issues.
(2) A general pair, widely used in the House, does not entail any arrangement between two members and does not affect the vote. Members who expect to be absent notify the clerk that they wish to make a general pair. Each member is then listed in the Congressional Record. The member may or may not be paired with another taking the opposite position, and no indication of how the members would have voted is given.
(3) A specific pair, also known as a special pair, is similar to a general pair, except that the opposing stands of the two members are identified and printed in the Record.
Logrolling: winning a majority in Congress is not usually based on denying members–and thereby their constituents–a stake in the outcome of a piece of legislation. Winning a majority is more likely based on giving as many members as needed for a majority a stake in the outcome–by compromising, old fashioned logrolling, papering over differences, trading for legislative support elsewhere, or exchanging favors within or outside Congress.
Earmarks, pork barrel projects and logrolling
In a “pair,” a member refrains from voting as an accommodation to another member who would vote opposite but who is not present. In that way, a member’s absence does not negatively affect his side of the vote. Pairing has substantially declined in modern times, as has absenteeism. In recent years, there are very few members in either the House or the Senate recorded as not-voting on roll calls.
§ 2.14, Absenteeism and Pairs in House and Senate Votes, in Forbidden Citizens, by Martin B. Gold.
- “Pairing in Congressional Voting,” CRS Report 98-970 (7-page PDF)
- § 1.20 Congress, the Political Institution, in Congressional Deskbook
- Congressional Record – FDsys
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