|Step One: Elect 50+ Democratic Caucus Senators and a Democratic Vice President
This should have been done at the beginning of 2011, but it wasn't. To do it requires a majority of votes at the beginning of the Congress, when the Senate rules are first voted into existence.
If the Democrats hold the White House, then 50 Democratic Senators are sufficient for this to work. Otherwise, 51 Democratic Senators are required.
Step Two: Keep It Simple
The reason for the abuse is straightforward: until and unless the Majority can get 60% for cloture, it only takes one member of the minority to sustain a filibuster.
And while in most parliaments that have a filibuster, a filibuster really is an effort to "talk a bill to death" ~ in the Senate there is a much simpler way to execute the filibuster. This is to look around and see that there are less than 50 Senators in the chamber, then "suggest the absence of a quorum", which creates a quorum call. The quorum call keeps going through a roll call of Senators until 50 have answered the call, and then business can proceed.
So the majority who want to get work done are pinned down by the filibuster, while the minority only ever has to have one there at a time. For safety, you'd have two, to allow for emergency bathroom breaks, etc. ... but in reality, most of the blocking minority can be asleep in their beds ignoring the quorum call, while the majority have to sleep in cots and get out to answer each one through the night.
This is why there is abuse of the filibuster: because the balance of power is broken. Those blocking progress have less to do than those who want to do the people's business.
One additional rule would flip this around:
- During a filibuster, after a vote for cloture has taken place, if 2/3 of the Senators answering a quorum call have voted for cloture, debate is immediately closed off and business proceeds.
Under this rule, the bulk of the minority is pinned down, because if there are only 25 of them there, then 50 of the Majority answering the quorum call would kill the filibuster. If there are only 20 of them there, it only takes 40 of the Majority to kill the filibuster. If there are 16 or fewer, enough Majority members lurking in the cloak room to make up the quorum can kill the filibuster immediately by one of their number going to the chamber and suggesting the absence of a quorum, and the rest showing up as soon as the quorum call starts.
The safe number of Minority members to maintain a filibuster is 34. But if there are 34 Minority members in the chamber, it only takes 16 of the Majority to maintain a quorum and force the Minority Senator in the well to keep speaking.
Note that this does not really touch the "Major Filibuster" ~ the "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" type filibuster. If 41 Senators really believe strongly about a measure not going ahead, seriously enough that they are willing to take the floor and hold it in numbers ... then the filibuster will stand.
But this nonsense of threatening a filibuster over an appointment that is going to get 80 votes ... filibusters over the motion to start debating a measure ... agreeing to rules requiring 60 votes in order to be allowed to proceed without a filibuster ... these routine filibusters and even worse the "conceded filibuster" can be weeded out. A routine filibuster would force the minority to stay in the Chamber, while most of the Majority can fly home, schmooze, fund-raise ... even, heaven forbid, run committee hearings and get the other work of the Senate done.
Even if much of the Majority seemed to be out of town, the threat of a coordinated return to Washington would always be looming over the filibustering minority, as it would only take too many Minority members gone for a single quorum call to kill the filibuster.
Step 3. Put it in the rulebook.
Normally the filibuster cannot be changed in was that benefit a majority ... because that change itself would be subject to filibuster. However, there is this golden period after the Senate is sworn in and before the rules have been adopted that the "Constitutional Option" is in force.
The parliamentary procedure is that the rule is proposed. The actual President of the Senate ~ the Vice President of the United States ~ is presiding.
Now, ordinarily, if the Minority didn't like it, they could try to filibuster it. But a Majority Senator objects "on Constitutional Grounds", along the lines that the Constitution gives the Senate the power to make its own rules, and until the Senators have made the rules for who has the floor, the presiding officer is not bound by rules in session in previous Senates.
The Minority objects, and the Chair (VP) overrules. The Minority appeals, and a member of the Majority moves to table the appeal. A majority vote, and the objection is tabled. Another majority vote, and the modified rule is put into place.
Step 4: Then Kill the Filibuster
Of course, taming the abuse of the filibuster is not the end goal. The end goal is killing it entirely. But curbing the abuse of the filibuster is a first step in the right direction.