President Barack Obama declared in a recent interview that he supported “the elimination of the routine use of the filibuster,” and went on to assert that “the filibuster in this modern age probably just torques it too far in the direction of a majority party not being able to govern effectively and move forward its platform.” The comments were surprising, given his own party is presently using the filibuster to block legislation that would undo the president’s own executive actions on immigration.
Shortly thereafter, Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, took to the microphones to contradict calls to eliminate the filibuster by several conservative House allies who are frustrated by the Senate’s inability to join their chamber in blocking the president’s executive actions on immigration. “I think the Senate rules wisely protect the minority,” Cruz said, according to news accounts. “The answer is not to change the Senate rules. The answer is for Senate Democrats not to be obstructionist.”
Is a Senate filibuster a malicious barrier to legislative progress or an essential tool to ensure all voices are heard in formulating public policy? The answer is both — though legislators’ views are usually shaped by whether they find themselves in the majority or the minority.
Obama and Cruz are both right in opposing calls to eliminate the filibuster altogether. Though these may be cathartic, they would not prove effective. The Senate is a house of glass built on a pile of stones, and the filibuster is just one stone. There are numerous other procedural opportunities for an aggrieved minority party to thwart the majority agenda. We don’t need lawmakers to stop filibustering; we need them to begin collaborating. Simply taking away an enemy’s weapons rarely leads to lasting peace.