Dan Quayle, just as we remember him

DAN QUAYLE, JUST AS WE REMEMBER HIM…. In the category of “ridiculous former vice presidents whose opinions are of no real value,” the field is not limited to Dick Cheney.

Former Vice President Dan Quayle appeared on Fox News [yesterday] afternoon to chip in his two cents on the health care debate. Namely, he warned that using the reconciliation process would set a “very bad precedent” because a simple majority is just unconstitutional.

“They’re gonna go to budget reconciliation, which I believe would set a very bad precedent, because essentially — if they could do it, and I don’t know if they can do it, but if they could do it — what you have done, effectively, is to take away the filibuster in the United States Senate,” Quayle said. “So, therefore, you have 51 votes in the House and 51 votes in the Senate. That is not what our Founding Fathers had in mind. That is not the constitutional process.”

I realize that correcting Dan Quayle is probably a little too easy, but in case similar sentiments start popping up elsewhere, let’s note just how incredibly wrong the former vice president really is.

Overlooking the fact that it takes more than “51 votes in the House” — he probably meant 51 percent — the notion that reconciliation “would set a very bad precedent” is just foolish. The “precedent” has already been set. Quayle may not realize this — details were never really his strong point — but reconciliation has been used, legitimately, to pass everything from welfare reform to COBRA, Bush’s tax-cut packages to student-aid reform, nursing home standards to the earned income tax credit. Not too long ago, Senate Republicans even considered using reconciliation to approve drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In each instance, the Senate survived, the republic endured, and the filibuster rule remained intact.

As for Quayle’s understanding of history, and “what our Founding Fathers had in mind,” it’s worth remembering that the filibuster is not in the Constitution. Indeed, there’s a very reasonable case to be made that requiring three-fifths supermajorities on all legislation is, in fact, unconstitutional. The Senate was designed to operate on majority rule, and it did just that for the better part of 200 years. If the framers wanted to prevent majorities from governing, they could have, and would have, written the requirement into the text. They didn’t.

“That is not the constitutional process”? Having a bill come to the Senate floor, and allowing members to register an up-or-down vote, is the very definition of “the constitutional process.”

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.