The Quayle Amendment

I don’t believe in visiting the sins, much less the poor reasoning ability, of the father to the son. So it doesn’t really matter that it’s Dan Quayle’s son, U.S. Rep. Ben Quayle (R-AZ) who has proposed one of the more lame-brained constitutional amendments in living memory, aimed solely at scratching an immediate conservative itch after the ACA decision. Here’s how The Hill‘s Pete Kasperowicz explains the Quayle Amendment:

Quayle’s amendment, H.J.Res. 114, would hold simply that, “No provision of law shall be construed as having been made in execution of the power of Congress to lay and collect taxes unless such law has been designated by Congress as a tax.”

The Amendment is presumably intended to head off any future sneaky arrangement whereby lawmakers collude with Supreme Court justices to call something not-a-tax that’s then held to be constitutional because it is a tax. It would become, so far as I can tell, the first constitutional amendment providing ongoing guidance to federal courts in how they are allowed to interpret legislative acts, but what the hell, it’s not going anywhere.

In all the tax-tax-tax talk of the last few days, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of the shouting conservatives that the whatever-you-want-to-call-it in ACA did not change its character in any way, shape or form because of its construction as a tax by Justice Roberts. Yes, the president said it was not a tax, agreeing in that respect with the four dissenting Justices that Republicans are now hailing as brave defenders of the Constitution. Republicans were denouncing ACA as involving massive tax increases and (in contradiction to the findings of the Congressional Budget Office) debt long before it occurred to anyone to call the individual mandate a tax. Does anyone really think that the relatively small amount of revenues estimated to flow from payments made in response to the mandate would have made a huge difference in the politics of the ACA?

I understand the “T word” is magic for Republicans, as is any chance to call the president a liar. But Quayle’s amendment shows how fundamentally dumb this whole chain of “reasoning” turns out to be upon examination. They might as well start spelling the word “taxe.”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.