But the filibuster isn’t just about obstruction. It’s supposed to be a tool that draws senators to collaborate—to head off conflicts with their peers in a collaborative way. Because neither party frequently maintains a 60-vote bloc, the filibuster is designed to incent members to reach across the aisle. Knowing that an opponent could mount a Huey Long-, Strom Thurmond-, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”-type filibuster, members have reason to reach out to work through objections to any legislative proposal.
The easy filibuster has upended that dynamic. Rather than enhance bipartisanship, as the talking filibuster served to do, the procedure today simply nurtures obstruction. That’s a problem that deserves a remedy. But by eliminating the filibuster altogether, the Senate will also lose the impetus to collaborative leadership. If a simple majority can work its will without even the threat of opposition, the Senate becomes a mirror of the House, where the minority is almost entirely locked out of power and where huge changes to the rules and regulations that govern our lives and our economy could happen every two or four years depending on who is in power. And that certainly is not what the Founders intended for the world’s greatest deliberative body.
In America’s constitutional system, every branch is charged with certain responsibilities and subjected to certain limitations. The Senate, designed to cool the passions of the House, is supposed to be a bastion of wisdom—a body balanced enough to incorporate perspectives from multiple points of view. If too many of those voices have an effective veto, obstruction reins. To strike a better balance, the Senate shouldn’t eliminate the filibuster, but rather make it harder to mount. Returning to the old tradition will incentivize the bipartisanship that Americans of all stripes are desperate to restore.