Excellent post from Ezra Klein today on the actual mechanism for changing Senate rules. As he reports, Tom Udall and other reformers are urging a vote on the Senate rules at the beginning of the next Congress, claiming that no prior Congress can bind a future Congress. (I'm not as thrilled with calling it the "Constitutional option," since I believe that it is no more Constitutional than leaving the rules as is, but that's how these things are).
The bottom line on this is that there's really very little recourse for the minority if the majority chooses to change the rules. No one believes the courts would intervene. And what else could a minority do? Obviously, they could exploit whatever protections they have under the rules to whatever extent they thought it wise to do so...they could force full readings of bills, use up every second of debate time they are entitled to, object to everything that required unanimous consent and thereby forcing more time-consuming methods of operating. However, all of those options could further be curtailed by a determined majority. In reality, the only real protection the minority would have are the interests of majority party Senators to retain the influence of individual Senators, and public pressure. That's true whether the majority party acts at the beginning of a Congress or if they choose to act, as Republicans threatened to act on judicial nominations when George W. Bush was president, in the middle of a Congress. The only difference, if any, would be the political outcry.
And Klein is exactly correct: the most likely scenario is a compromise driven by the threat of a majority unilateral action. So what's really called for now is some serious thinking by everyone about what kinds of compromise make the most sense in a world in which Senators still want individual influence, but also want rules that allow the Senate to function under current conditions that include strong partisanship and well-sorted parties.
Regular readers know my answers, but I don't think I've given them for a while:
1. Majority confirmation of executive branch nominees, but allowing holds to continue;
2. Retaining the filibuster/cloture for judicial nominees, but with a certain vote on cloture: no holds;
3. One filibuster-free bill a year, but with minimal protections against amendments: Superbill!
4. Some streamlining of other procedural roadblocks.
By the way, Tom Udall's father Stewart Udall was one of the Democrats who agitated for reform in the House after the 1958 election, and his uncle Mo Udall continued that fight through the reform era.