One little-known fact about the filibuster is that it no longer requires the minority to hold the floor and make long speeches. It actually requires the supermajority to assemble and hold the floor to break it.
Here's some good news. Democratic Senators unanimously support a reform of the filibuster that would still allow 41 Senators to block anything, but would put the onus on the minority rather than the majority:
All Democratic senators returning next year have signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urging him to consider action to change long-sacrosanct filibuster rules.
The letter, delivered this week, expresses general frustration with what Democrats consider unprecedented obstruction and asks Reid to take steps to end those abuses. While it does not urge a specific solution, Democrats said it demonstrates increased backing in the majority for a proposal, championed by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and others, weaken the minority’s ability to tie the Senate calendar into parliamentary knots.
Among the chief revisions that Democrats say will likely be offered: Senators could not initiate a filibuster of a bill before it reaches the floor unless they first muster 40 votes for it, and they would have to remain on the floor to sustain it. That is a change from current rules, which require the majority leader to file a cloture motion to overcome an anonymous objection to a motion to proceed, and then wait 30 hours for a vote on it.
“There need to be changes to the rules to allow filibusters to be conducted by people who actually want to block legislation instead of people being able to quietly say ‘I object’ and go home,” said Sen.Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
The bad news is that this is meaningless unless the Democrats are willing to change the rules at the outset of the session by a majority vote. And it isn't clear that they are:
Senior caucus members, notably including Reid and retiring Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., have been skeptical. Dodd warned against altering Senate rules in his farewell speech this month. He is the only Senate Democrat who did not sign the letter to Reid, aides said.
Republicans have cited such divisions to argue that Democrats will not be able to force any rules changes. Democrats hope the letter strengthens Reid’s hand in talks with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Dodd's farewell speech was a testament to the glories of the filibuster and the good ole' days of the Senate. It's a sentiment shared by many old timers, who resolutely believe the fundamental cause of the massive expansion of filibusters is that Senators don't socialize with each other enough.
But, in reality, the current arrangement is itself novel, deriving from a 1970s-era rule change. Designed to expedite the process, it turned the filibuster from a rare tool of passionate dissent into a routine supermajority requirement. There's not only no basis for it in the Constitution, there's no basis for it in Senate history. The proposed reform would actually make the filibuster more like the way it was throughout most of Senate history. The irony is that the Democratic old-timers think the way it was when they started, in the 1970s and 1980s, is the way it's always been.