Right now, the majority needs to supply the 60 votes to break a filibuster. The minority only needs one vote on the floor. Under Reid’s backup plan, the burden would be reversed: The minority would have to supply the 41 votes required to keep a filibuster going, while the majority wouldn’t have to do much of anything. That means that if the minority only had 38 votes present in the room, the filibuster would end. It also means the minority could be forced to muster all their people to vote at times of the majority leader’s choosing: say, 3 a.m. on a Saturday. It would make filibustering a much more unpleasant experience.
In that way, it satisfies a central priority of the Merkley-Udall talking filibuster, in that it forces the minority to actually put some work into filibustering. As Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told me in the New Yorker: “Some of these people who put in these filibusters simply object and go home for the weekend. We think we need to inconvenience them.” Even Merkley is supportive. “I think switching from 60 to 41 would be very valuable,” he told Slate.
But the 41-vote policy is not Reid’s preference, and presumably, it’s not McConnell’s, either. It would also mean that Senate Republicans could go nuclear in response, shutting everything down. It would also, interestingly, mean House Republicans could go nuclear. House Speaker John Boehner’s office released a statement saying that “Any bill that reaches a Republican-led House based on Senate Democrats’ heavy-handed power play would be dead on arrival.” Reid would, all things considered, prefer to avoid that particular showdown. So his hope is that the threat of the 41-vote change leads McConnell to accept his package of more limited reforms. It’s only if McConnell walks that Reid will pick that fight.