I guess all of us who make the progressive blogosphere our bailiwick are geeks on some level or another. And tonight will be a kind of Super Bowl or World Series for political geeks. Actually, it’ll be like seeing the Cubs in the World Series. We haven’t had an honest-to-God filibuster in the Senate for years. Rather than waste time allowing endless debate, the Senate has opted for cloture votes. If they can’t get 60 votes to cut-off debate, the majority leader concedes the point and shelves whatever bill or amendment they have under discussion. It wasn’t always this way.

Back in 1964, Sen. Robert Byrd stood for twelve hours on the Senate floor filibustering the Civil Rights Act. But that wasn’t the most offensive or longest filibuster in history. Strom Thurmond spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes as he filibustered the 1957 Civil Rights Act. Their reward? They’re the two longest serving senators.

The Senate reacted to this abuse of lenient Senate rules by reducing the number of votes needed to cut off debate from 67 to 60, and then by operating under the principle that anything that couldn’t muster 60 votes would be dropped off the agenda. The ‘actual’ filibuster disappeared…replaced by the mere threat of a filibuster.

There have been some minor exceptions. Bob Geiger reminds us that in 2003 Harry Reid spoke for eight and half hours to protest the schedule Bill Frist had laid out on judicial nominations. But it has been years since a majority leader called the minority party’s bluff and forced them to physically take to the well of the Senate and speak without end. Under the rules, a senator may not sit down and may not take any breaks. If he or she is exhausted, there must be another senator ready to take his or her place and there must be a quorum present between speakers. This means the Republicans will have to spend tonight at the Capitol. Cots will be provided. Here is today’s schedule.

A schedule of events throughout the day follows:

12:00 noon Senators Carl Levin and Jack Reed lead a bipartisan press conference in the Senate Radio/TV Gallery to highlight their amendment to the change course in Iraq through the Defense Authorization bill.

2:15 p.m. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid holds his weekly stakeout

3:00 p.m. Senators gather on the floor to begin the all-night session.

3:30 p.m. Rollout of the cots to LBJ

4:30 – 6:00 p.m. Iraq War veterans visit the offices of key Republican Senators

4:30 P.M.: Senator Voinovich
4:30 P.M.: Senator Collins
5:00 P.M.: Senator Lugar
5:00 P.M.: Senator Domenici

6:00 p.m. Dinner is delivered to the Cloak Room

9:00 p.m. Senators participate in Call to Action to change course in Iraq (Upper Senate Park)

9:30 p.m. and on Iraq War veterans sit in the Gallery to watch the floor debate

9:30 p.m. and on Senate holds live quorum call throughout the night

The actual coverage will be on C-SPAN2 and it could be worse than watching paint dry. Senators may resort to reading from cookbooks or discussing their childhoods as they seek to use up time. I wonder if Minority Leader is holding a lottery to see which senators will be responsible for sustaining the filibuster. More likely, he will choose his safest senators…those not up for re-election from solidly red states. Paging Orrin Hatch and Trent Lott.

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