The Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on a top priority for President Obama: legislation to re-regulate Wall Street.
Republicans say it is too soon to take up the bill. That amounts to a filibuster, and it'll take 60 votes to override it — one more than the 59 that Democrats control.
Such filibusters have expanded dramatically in recent years; and Democrats say it's time to re-assess a practice that the Senate invented.
To get an idea why Democrats say they are so frustrated with filibusters, consider what happened Thursday on the Senate floor when Majority Leader Harry Reid proposed bringing up the financial regulatory bill:
"I ask unanimous consent that at 3 p.m. Monday, April 26, the Senate proceed to the consideration of calendar number 349S3217, a bill to promote the financial stability of the United States by improving the accountability and transparency."
"Is there objection?" asked the Senate's presiding officer.
If just one Senator objects, the bill can't be considered unless 60 Senators vote to bring it up.
The one senator in this case was Republican leader Mitch McConnell: "Reserving the right to object, and I will object."
McConnell said Republicans wanted more time to negotiate changes to the bill before it hit the floor. That's because once it does, Republicans wanting to amend it may have to muster 60 votes, because any Democrat can filibuster GOP amendments.
It used to be relatively rare that so-called "motions to proceed," or to bring up a bill, were filibustered.
Before Democrats became the majority in 2007, such filibusters occurred only about eight times a year. Since then, the Republican minority has nearly quadrupled the frequency of such filibusters.
That's why Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) convened a meeting last week of the rules committee he leads — the first in a series of hearings on what to do about the filibuster.
"The threat of filibusters has become an almost daily fact of life in the Senate, influencing how we handle virtually everything debated on the Senate floor," Schumer said. "The filibuster used to be the exception to the rule. In today's Senate, it's becoming a straitjacket."
Schumer held the hearing at the urging of Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), who is part of a group of freshman and sophomore Democrats who've gotten fed up with the filibuster.
"It is time again for reform," Udall said. "There are many great traditions in this body that should be kept and respected, but stubbornly clinging to ineffective and unproductive procedures should not be one of them."
GOP leader McConnell, who was also at the hearing, said his message on changing the filibuster is: Don't do it.
"The founders purposely crafted the Senate to be a deliberate, thoughtful body," McConnell said. "A supermajority requirement to cut off the right to debate ensures that wise purpose. Eliminating it is a bad idea."
The filibuster is not the only venerable Senate institution in the cross hairs. Some Democrats also are pushing to get rid of so-called secret holds on scores of presidential nominees — a hold being the threat to filibuster.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said a letter is being sent to the Senate's two leaders addressing secret holds.
"We have said, first, we will not do secret holds," McCaskill said. "We're out of the business of secret holds, we're not going to do them. Secondly, we want the Senate to pass a rule that prohibits them entirely. If you want to hold somebody, fine, but say who you are and why you're doing it."
Changing the Senate's rules takes 67 votes — and just 21 senators have signed McCaskill's letter.