Dan Quayle - 44th Vice President of the United States, 1989 - 1993


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Address By Vice President Dan Quayle
The Leader's Lecture Series September 19, 2000

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Finally, the Senate is proud of its rules, the rules that protect minority rights and individual prerogatives as they are nowhere else protected. Now, explaining the rules to White House staff who have not served here in the Senate is difficult. Go try to explain - I'm sure Senator Daschle has had to do this - what a "hold" is and how it works. Even if you go over these things again and again, they won't have a clue as to the inner workings and personal relationships that are so important in the life of the Senate.

Of course, the Senate's rules have always been subject to change. But changing them is one thing; nullifying them by indirection is quite another. Since the Budget Act of 1974, that indirect approach to getting the Senate's business done has threatened to become a permanent part of the legislative process, as the Senate's rules are, in effect, displaced by mere legislation. Legislation requiring only a simple majority, not the two-thirds vote that is supposed to be required for a rules change. And legislation, moreover, to which the House of Representatives and the Executive Branch are parties.

The Budget Act is only one example of the dangerous tendency to give up on ordinary Senate procedures to look for an extraordinary way out. I hope I am not the only person in this chamber who is uncomfortable with that process. The more it is followed, as the easy way out of sticky situations, the more the Senate becomes just another cog in a legislative machine - an outcome none of us wants to see.

So how can the Senate avoid that outcome? How can the Senate preserve its uniqueness and maintain its standing a quarter-century, indeed, a half-century from now? I'd like to offer four modest suggestions.

First, if the core problem, the core change over the last thirty years, is that government has grown to tremendous proportions and even larger appetites, the simplest solution is to downsize government. But as President Reagan once observed, there may be simple solutions, but not necessarily easy ones.

I had some experience in downsizing when Senator Baker appointed me to chair a committee on the reorganization of the Senate. I was complaining about the creation of yet another committee, and he said, "Fine, it's time that all the committees and subcommittees be examined." Some of you will recall conversations I had with you about this. The one I will never forget was with Senator Lowell W eicker. Orrin remembers him quite well from their service on the Labor and Human Resources Committee. If any of you want to have an interesting experience, try explaining to Senator Weicker why he has to give up three or four of his subcommittees - because, at the time, he was serving on seventeen.

To his credit, he did give up about three subcommittees and was very gracious about it, because it took him only three years to speak to me again. So I know the hazards of downsizing. It is not easy.

My second proposal is a reminder that "Advise and consent" does not mean "control and manipulate." Having dealt with this problem from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, I can't help but think there is now an imbalance, improperly tilted away from the presidency, in international matters.

For example, we now have legislatively imposed sanctions, of one degree or another, against 65 foreign nations. It may be that each of those countries needs correction; but when our government is in good working order, the president decides that and takes action accordingly. In the absence of such leadership, perhaps it is inevitable that the Congress would assume direction of foreign relations. But over the long run, that is not a healthy state of affairs.

I'm not for total deference toward the Executive Branch when it comes to foreign policy. I think the Congress should be involved. But I think Congress..should be more selective when it gets involved. If you are more selective, then your involvement will be more meaningful. But I have always been a proponent of bringing the Congress on board That is why, for example, I thought it my responsibility, serving under President Bush, to be an internal advocate for the role of the Senate, in both domestic and international issues. That was especially the case with regard to the President's decision to seek the Senate's authorization to use American military might in the Persian Gulf.

Everyone looks back now and says that was a slam-dunk. It wasn't. The vote in the Senate was 52-48. There was a real question of whether we would have the votes. But you would be surprised how many individuals, at the very highest level of the Bush Administration, argued vehemently for bypassing the Congress on that resolution. They said we didn't, constitutionally, have to come to the Senate for a vote. We might not have the votes. History would judge us on what the outcome of the war would be.

There was a serious discussion in the Oval Office on that particular issue.

Fortunately, President Bush made the right decision and came to the Congress, as he should have, asked for support, and explained what was going on with Iraq. We did get bipartisan support. Coming from the Senate, as Vice President, I think I was able to be helpful in that situation.

Do you realize how many Senators became Vice President in recent decades?

Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, myself, and Al Gore. So perhaps it's time for a former Secretary of Defense to assume that office.

Now, a third suggestion. Whoever is elected as president this year will come to the Congress in January with his own priorities, and those priorities should be respected, whether or not they are ever enacted. But the Senate ought to have its priorities as well, and they should be in terms of process. Robert Frost wrote that "good fences make good neighbors." It is time, I think, to look at rebuilding certain walls. The walls, for example, that should keep the Congress from micromanaging foreign affairs - as well as the walls which should constrain the president from attempting to legislate by executive order.

Most of all, we need to strengthen the internal walls of this institution: the rules and procedures which make the Senate, the Senate. Those walls alone can preserve this body against the forces which would, in effect, dumb it down to irrelevance.

My fourth and final point is perhaps the most important one. With the loss of tradition, the emergence of cyber-politics, the continuing media revolution in all aspects of society, the uncharted prospects of the New Economy, the only certainty in our political future is uncertainty. How do we deal with that uncertainty?

What the Senate needs to counter that uncertainty is just what has always been its greatest strength: the extraordinary caliber of those who comprise this body.

That may be difficult to maintain in this time of cynicism and apathy. It is going to be difficult in this time of peace and prosperity, when there seems to be no great cause worth fighting for. But raising the standard of democratic government IS a great cause - and preserving the character of this Senate is an essential element of that cause.

As Members or former Members of the Senate, I think it is our obligation to try to recruit good people to public service, men and women whose character and conscience will raise the standing of government itself in the eyes of the American people.

For more than anything else, it is the quality ofthe individuals who assemble under this roof that will determine whether, at the end of another century, this Senate will still stand, alone and part from all other legislative bodies, as the heart and the balance of a democratic republic.

Preserving the Senate as a unique institution will not be easy. It will take hard work, determination, tough decisions. But you all do that every day. So keep up the good work. Keep the Senate's future always in mind. I love this place. I always have, and always will. Thank you for inviting me back.

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