This one is about the third plank of the Merkley/Udall reform package: reducing post-cloture time on nominations. I'm for it, but would do it in a slightly different way than they do.
Why is there 30 hours of post-cloture time? I mean -- why is there any post-cloture time at all? I don't really know, but I assume that it was originally a concession to those who opposed the cloture rule, and it was justified on the basis of protecting the right of Senators to speak. I do know (from Greg Koger's book) that the 1975 reform that set cloture to 60 Senators included 100 hours of post-cloture time, and the amount was reduced to 30 in 1986.
My impression is that most of the time post-cloture time is yielded back; certainly, no one actually talks for 30 hours after cloture has been achieved. However, the threat of chewing up 30 hours is certainly part of why filibusters are so successful; the total time that even a handful of Senators can use or threaten to use (waiting for a cloture petition to ripen, actually taking the vote, waiting out the 30 hours) is enough that it can derail a lot of relatively low-priority nominations -- not to mention legislation, where there are even more opportunities for delay.
So in general, I think that further limits on post-cloture time are a good thing, and I'm happy to see it in the Merkley-Udall package. I think I'd do it a bit differently, however. The reformers would simply reduce post-cloture debate time to two hours on all nominations except for Supreme Court nominations. What I would do? This is the place where a live filibuster requirement actually does make sense -- I'd keep it at 30 hours, but use it or lose it. To actually make this work, I'd suggest using the rules Merkley drafted for a talking filibuster -- basically, changing the Senate rules for that situation only in order to force the minority to keep talking or have to yield back the time.
Why not just go with the two hours? Because I really do believe strong minority objections should have some leverage. Not too much, but some. As I've argued many times, in my view Merkley's (pre-cloture) talking filibuster would not work because the rewards for the minority (keeping the 60 vote Senate) are so strong that they would surely go through with it. That's not going to be the case with the post-cloture 30 hours; Senators would only use it, and perhaps only have a believable threat to use it, when they really cared about some point.
A more general point...I fully agree with those who believe that the current Senate is dysfunctional, and badly needs reform. But what's really most out of whack isn't that there's too much leverage for single Senators or small groups of Senators; it's the ability of large (41-49 Senator) minorities to fully block things. Now, I do think that single Senators and small groups have acquired a bit more leverage than is healthy, and so I don't have anything against reforms to nudge that back a bit. But generally, I think that Senate rules shouldn't overly empower the party caucuses and party leadership at the expense of individual Senators.
In the event, there's probably very little difference between two hours of post-cloture time and a use-it-or-lose-it 30 hours (I should be clear -- I'd apply use-it-or-lose-it to all post-cloture time, not just nominations). Either way, it would make it a bit easier to process nominations through the Senate floor, especially those that are not controversial; either way, holds would still be effective because they would still carry the threat of significant delay. So I'd do it the other way, but I have no real problem with the Merkley/Udall approach.