Saturday, February 13, 2010
By Steven L. Taylor

TPM notes a statement by former Vice President Dan Quayle regarding the possibility of the Democrats using the reconciliation process (which cannot be filibustered) to pass health care reform:

"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."

Video at the link.

Now, I am not going to get into Quayle, health care reform, or even reconciliation.  Rather, I want to highlight the “constitutional process” part because I think that a lot of people think that what Quayle is saying above is correct.

Let me be clear: he is wrong.

The filibuster process and the specific numbers needed to evoke cloture (i.e., force the end of debate in the Senate) are wholly the result of the rules of the Senate.  They are not the result of constitutional strictures and are not something that can be blamed on the intentions of the Founding Fathers (if, by that, one means what they wrote in the constitution).

Now, one can argue about whether the filibuster rule is a good one or not, but one cannot assert (and be correct) that it is a constitutional principle.

The only linkage to the constitution is to note that Article I, Section 5 allows each chamber to set its own rules.

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5 Responses to “Well, No (51 Votes and the Founders)”

  1. Dan Quayle, Historical and Constitutional Scholar | The Moderate Voice Says:

    [...] Dr. Steven Taylor also corrects Quayle on his facts: [...]

  2. Leonard Says:

    51 votes in the House? What a terrible thing it is to lose one’s mind.

  3. Steven L. Taylor Says:

    Yes–I gave him a mental benefit of the doubt and assumed he meant 51%, but yes, it does feed into a broader narrative concerning Mr. Quayle.

  4. Alabama Moderate Says:

    Sorry… I know this is a cheap shot, but…


    I couldn’t help myself.

  5. Max Lybbert Says:

    The Constitution requires a majority of a quorum to pass a law. A quorum is just over half of the relevant house. So it is possible that 26 votes in the Senate (if only 51 Senators show up; creating a quorum) and 110 votes in the House (if only 218 Representatives show up to make a quorum) would pass a law.

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