"Politics should not be the art of domination, but the art of doing justice"
Quid pro quo is a Latin expression that in Portuguese has the meaning of confusion, deception or shacking up. In Anglo-Saxon countries, the meaning of the phrase has evolved in a different direction, and currently has the meaning of an agreement to exchange favors. Thus, in the Anglo-Saxon version, it would resemble the current practice of political bargaining.
Bargaining between the legislative and executive branches goes back many centuries in politics. History is littered with classic cases that vividly illustrate how the Executive and Legislative branches use their influence to appoint ministers of state in exchange for political support on congressional agendas. The complex dynamic between these two powers is growing exponentially.
For those who think this is a local phenomenon, it's worth remembering the creation of the Conservative Senate in the Napoleonic period. At the beginning of the 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte emerged as a powerful political figure in France. To consolidate his rule over the country, he sought support from the legislature. A notable example occurred when Napoleon appointed members of the Conservative Senate, a key institution, on the basis of political criteria. He selected individuals who were loyal to his regime and favored his policies, thus gaining the crucial support of the legislature. This strategic appointment guaranteed the continuity of his authoritarian rule.
The Roosevelt era and the negotiation of the Social Security Act in the US during the Great Depression in the 1930s is another good example. President Franklin D. Roosevelt faced the need to pass legislation to alleviate the economic crisis. To gain the support of Congress, Roosevelt resorted to appointing judges to the Supreme Court. In a famous episode known as the "Threat to the Court", he proposed increasing the number of Supreme Court justices, citing the need to rejuvenate the court. Although this proposal was controversial, it influenced some members of Congress to support his legislative agenda, including the Social Security Act.
The most emblematic historical case was President Abraham Lincoln and his political maneuvers to pass the law abolishing slavery in the USA. Lincoln, the 16th president, realized the importance of forming solid political alliances to pass the abolition amendment. So he forged alliances with members of the Republican party, from the moderate to the more radical wings, and made individual pacts with Democratic congressmen, implementing a kind of American "mensalão". After the Amendment was passed, the Speaker coined the famous phrase: "The most important law of our time, passed through corruption, led by the purest man in the world".
In Brazil, political bargaining is no longer done behind closed doors, and the "toma lá dá cá" (take it or leave it) is done in the newspapers as a matter of course. It is a constant topic in the news that important agendas are being held up in Congress until there is a move by the Executive that pleases the Legislative. Congressmen openly request positions in ministries, state-owned companies and the release of funds from the secret budget in order not to let provisional measures lapse. The Executive, for its part, when it has an interest in a particular legislative act, immediately offers retribution for a simple legislative approval.
Since everything in life evolves, what is the limit to this barter policy?
The answer is still unknown, but the way things are going, with retail negotiations between the branches of government, it will be very difficult to produce serious public policies. Economist Marcos Mendes, in an article in Folha de S. Paulo, described well how Brazil's terrible public policies are born. According to the economist, "there is a hyperactivity on the part of politicians to show their service, win electoral points and push the bill forward. Decisions are taken, in all three branches of government, in a fragmented, conflicting way, with no technical basis, a focus on the short term and no concern for the side effects."
It's natural for members of Congress to seek to maximize their electoral political capital, but it's up to the Executive to put together a political alliance that favors the wholesale, forming a minimum base for the approval of important measures. Congress has already realized that negotiating on demand is being more productive in the face of a fragmented, multi-party political base. In this situation, the Executive and Legislative branches seek to satisfy their own interests and preserve their political status, to the potential detriment of the interests of citizens.
The current government sought a coalition with various political parties in the initial formation of its ministry, in exchange for support in votes in Congress, creating a complex network of political alliances. The strategy didn't work, the president was forced to sacrifice allies in search of reinforcements for the coalition and the negotiations are still tied to specific quid pro quos.
Political bargaining between the legislature and the executive is a historical phenomenon that transcends borders and eras. This practice can be an effective strategy for political leaders to achieve their goals. However, this dynamic also raises questions about transparency and accountability, highlighting the importance of establishing a healthy and balanced political system through which the public interest must be preserved.