• Banning Filibusters on House-Senate Conferences: Another case of a filibuster where you don't expect it: Senators can block the start of House-Senate conferences to reconcile versions of bills. That could be done away with.
• Shift the Burden on Cloture: Currently, the Senate requires 60 votes for cloture on a bill. Minnesota's Al Franken wants to see the burden reversed, so that any minority that wishes to block cloture would have to produce 41 votes.
Who's behind the reform push?
The loudest proponents have been the Merkley-Udall group. Senate veterans, who have spent more time in the minority, tend to be more skeptical of any changes to the rules. But Reid, who had long been reluctant to take action, is now on board, although he's been notably vague about the specifics of what he'd like to see. In a major boost for the reformers, President Obama, himself a former senator, said through a spokesman last week that he backed changes.
Aren't Democrats worried about being in the minority soon?
That's certainly how some Democrats feel, and what Republicans have cited as a reason for caution. Senate graybeards have stepped forward to complain about the whippersnappers who don't know what it's like to be in the opposition (neither Merkley nor Udall has ever been in the minority). Minority Leader Mitch McConnell railed against "this cohort of short-sighted Senate sophomores." The reformers say that the need for a functioning legislature outweighs their own benefit, and argue that if something is worth filibustering, it's worth a talking filibuster. They may have an opportunity to find out soon. Even though Democrats improbably managed to not only hold but add to their advantage this year, they have to defend 20 seats to the GOP's 13 in 2014, and many of those will be tough to keep. The New Republic's Nate Cohn lays out the liberal's case against reform, while several Democrats told The New York Times they were leery of changes. A Democratic staffer familiar with the matter told me the resistance is overstated, saying that some of the senators publicly worrying have privately indicated they're open to voting for reforms.
This seems pretty hypocritical, though. Didn't Democrats do the same when they were in the minority?
Certainly. As Alex Seitz-Wald explains, there's plenty of hypocrisy to go around. You may recall that back in 2005, Republicans, exasperated with Democratic filibusters of George W. Bush nominees, threatened the "nuclear option" to allow a simple majority to overcome a filibuster. Democrats, including Reid and Vice President Biden, strongly objected. (A compromise was eventually worked out that didn't involve the nuclear option.) Of course, the Republicans have switched their views just as easily as the Democrats.
How would these changes be enacted?
There's some debate about that. The standard precedent requires not just a supermajority but a two-thirds vote to change the filibuster rules. Reformers tried and failed to get changes through in January 2011, when the current Congress convened. If Reid can't get the 60 votes needed to override filibusters now, he obviously can't get 67 to make it harder to filibuster in the first place. As a result, Udall has been calling for what he calls the "constitutional option," which is the same name that Republicans gave to the "nuclear option" seven years ago. Udall and his backers want to change the rules by a simple majority at the start of the Senate session in January. Even many Democrats who want to see reforms enacted are skittish about that, but what's new is that Reid now seems open to it. The trick from here is whipping enough votes to pass.