I don't really have much new to say about the now-unveiled Udall/Merkley reform package, as reported by Greg Sargent. From a pro-reform point of view, the main thrust of the exercise seems to be proving that reform, any reform, is possible. The specific details, however, continue to promise no significant change from the newly-instituted 60 vote Senate.
Secret holds? If holds are a problem (and in general I'm only really concerned about them on nominations), then the problem is the hold itself, not secrecy. Making holds public won't change anything. There's also a strange, from my point of view, emphasis on forcing "live" filibusters, which (without further rules changes) will also change nothing. Minority party Senators are, in most cases, perfectly happy to be identified with their opposition to what the majority wants. Assuming otherwise, as these reforms seem to do, is a real misunderstanding.
Two provisions, elimination of a filibuster on the motion to proceed for bills and a dramatic reduction of post-cloture time on nominations, aim to reduce the ability of smaller minorities to use the scarcity of floor time to defeat things they don't have the numbers to stop. On the margins, this might make some difference, but it's not really clear whether that's the case or not. Regardless, they make no difference at all for those bills and nominations that can't reach 60 votes.
The bigger news today is that Udall and Merkley have included protection for the minority in their proposal, which would guarantee the minority's right to offer germane amendments. In general, I think that's a good idea, but it doesn't really do anything one way or another about changing the 60 vote Senate. Whether one believes that the minority has had an adequate chance to offer amendments or not, no one believes that Republicans would have dropped filibusters in exchange for the ability to offer a small number of germane amendments. After all, they insisted on filibustering ever nomination in the 111th Congress -- that is, they insisted on needing 60 votes for every nomination -- even though amendments were irrelevant.
So, what we're left with is a possible streamlining on relatively noncontroversial measures, but no change at all on anything the minority party wants to block. And new protections for the minority party. It's all, as I've been saying, very underwhelming.
Perhaps that's deliberate. 60 isn't going to matter very much on legislation in the 112th Congress, because of the GOP majority in the House. Reformers, here, may just be settling for the long game. If Democrats didn't have the votes needed to end the 60 vote Senate at this time and under these circumstances, perhaps reformers will be satisfied with establishing a clear precedent that a simple majority can change the rules, at least at the beginning of a Congress. Should things work out well for the Democrats in 2012, and the next Congress returns unified Democratic control but (as is almost certain) falls short of 60 Democratic Senators, then the precedent set now might make it somewhat easier to act right at the beginning of the 113th Senate. I'm not sure that much is gained from that strategy, but then again I'm for reforming, and not ending, the filibuster.
At any rate, my sense is that there's very little at stake in this fight, as it's been defined by the reformers. Senate rules are very important, but these changes just wouldn't do much.