First up, Philosophical Ron asks about "Superbill" -- my proposal for basically a revved up reconciliation. The idea is that the majority party in the Senate could designate one bill a year as Superbill! -- or, less enthusiastically, the Leader's Bill. It would only need a simple majority to pass, and it could contain as many unrelated items as the party wanted, with (unlike reconciliation) no restriction on topic. On the other hand, it could be amended, also by simple majority...I'd probably want some limitation on that (number of amendments? Only germane amendments?), but basically if the minority had the votes for a poison pill amendment, tough luck to the majority. So Ron asks:
I fail to understand why your "Superbill" proposal ( 1 bill a year that can't be filibustered ) would lead to any kind of reform ore improvement whatever.
How is it defined? What restrictions will there be on saying X is the Superbill this week, then saying Y is the Superbill next week?
And how does it improve anything? All the lobbyist and insider pressure would then go into getting lobbyist-demanded provisions A, B, and C into the Superbill, and getting craven senators 1, 2, and 3 to say they won't vote for the Superbill unless A, B and C are in it.
First, I'm very open to moving around the details to make it work. While I have a pretty good working knowledge of Senate rules, there are many more expert than me; if this caught on as an idea, they would need to work out the details.
For that matter, I'm totally open to alternatives.
But the basic idea is that if the legitimate justification for supermajority obstacles in the Senate has to do with empowering intense minorities, then there also needs to be a way to empower intense majorities.
Moreover, part of the idea behind Superbill is that with that vehicle available, it's possible that the parties might more easily negotiate UC agreements for simple majority consideration of bills outside of the Superbill framework. That is, if Harry Reid can threaten that he would add a relatively minor bill to Superbill, Mitch McConnell might allow it to come to the floor as a stand-alone bill without needing 60, because he would know that it will pass anyway. In other words, not only would the Leader's Bill give intense majorities a way to push their priorities, but it would also remove the current incentive for the minority party to act as if it has intense preferences on absolutely everything.
As for the specific questions: you get one Superbill a year. It should be designed, I would think, with somewhat restrictive procedures. Perhaps once it's brought to the Senate floor, that's it: the majority could still amend it during consideration, but if it's defeated or pulled back then that's it for the calendar year. So you would want to be very careful about what you include. If, for example, Superbill was around during the 111th Congress, Democrats might have used it for a health care bill with a weak public option, but maybe not if that would have cost five votes -- and cap-and-trade might not have made it either, especially if the votes that would have lost would have been a different set than the public option votes.
On the second question: yes, everyone would definitely push for their items to be included in Superbill. I don't see a problem with that. On the one hand, there are always going to be must-pass bills of some sort which will attract provisions which interests want to get passed, but are unlikely to win as stand-alone bills. I don't see that Superbill changes that. On the other hand: of course there will be horsetrading around Superbill. That's pretty much a feature, not a bug.
I've been pushing Superbill as a (large part of a) logical solution to legislative filibusters for some time now, and I very much appreciate arguments against it -- but I've yet to be convinced that it wouldn't come closer to achieving the goal I think reformers should be after than any alternatives out there. That goal is ending the 60 vote Senate without turning the Senate into a flat-out majority party rule chamber, basically identical to a second House of Representatives. Of course, many would like to see exactly that, but it's a different argument. For those of us who do want to keep the Senate on it's more traditional path, but without the recent dysfunction, I'm increasingly convinced that Superbill! is a very promising solution.