I think this diary on filibuster reform is well intentioned and I'm happy to see the issue have some prominence, but progressives really really need to get a simple fact through their head so they stop enabling Senate delulsions: The filibuster can be ended any time by a simple majority.
Once you understand and accept that fact, you realize that the only reform that really makes sense is to completely end the filibuster and let the Senate revert to true majority rule. That should be the starting point demand for progressives, and if we get something less than that, but still better than the status quo, well, Ok. Let's not pre-compromise to one of the various Rube Goldberg schemes on the table. Ask for a majority rule chamber, and go from there.
How Can the Majority Just End It?
Forget whatever nonsense you see on the Senate rule page. That is nothing but lies the Senators find convenient to sell to us for their own reasons. They like the filibuster because it empowers them to demand goodies in exchange for not gumming up the works. Forget various intricate descriptions of "first day" precedents and whatever. The constitution allows each chamber of Congress to decide its own rules, which means they are their own Supreme Court for deciding whether their rules are constitutional. And court decisions are by necessity, majority rule. The majority can always have any Senate rule declared unconstitutional. Republicans were willing to do this in 2005 via what was called the "nuclear option" - the Gang of 14
cave-in "compromise" was a tacit admission by Democrats that Republicans could do this, so the Senate moderates threw the children to the wolves and managed to keep the filibuster around.
What if I like some kind of minority protection provision?
I think you're wrong about it on ideological grounds, but pragmatically, since no senate rule can actually survive simple majority constitutional challenge, there are no minority protections that can survive a determined majority in Senate rules. Things in the actual US Constitution, like two-thirds to ratify a treaty are the only supermajority requirements that can't be ignored or overridden by 51 Senators. If you really think there should be some kind of minority protection baked into the system, then you need a constitutional amendment.
Dems Needed the filibuster in the Bush years
They needed it, but it wasn't there for them when it really counted. Almost all of Bush's extreme judicial nominees were confirmed after the nuclear option fracas. Both Bush Tax cuts passed under reconciliation (another right wing handy way of evading the filibuster, declare something "budgetary" and you're home free). Two wars. Terry Schiavo federalization law. Alito confirmed. Roberts confirmed. FISA immunity law. PATRIOT and PATRIOT reauthorization. On and on. Can you name anything bad that Bush wanted to do, that was actually effectively blocked by Senate Democratic filibuster? Even John Bolton was named UN Ambassador as a recess appointment.
And don't say Social Security Privatization. That never even passed the House, because it was direly unpopular and Republicans were scared off passing it. If the public did not turn against that bill, you'd better believe Republicans would not have allowed a Senate filibuster to stop it passing.
What's so good about Majority rule?
The simple answer is responsible government. Voters will know who to blame. Right now, they blamed the Democrats for all sorts of stuff that didn't happen in 2010 because Senate Democrats allowed Republican filibusters to stymie their agenda (I say "allowed" because they could have gone nuclear at any time). It also allows the majority to make fake excuses for not doing things they promised in the event they actually don't want to do those things, and instead want the majority to stop them. It's a lie that allows politicians to lie to the public and their supporters about why popular priorities didn't happen.
It also means that if the majority party does something bad, and voters don't like it, it is much easier to undo that law and repeal it, since you don't need an absurdly difficult and rare supermajority sized and highly united caucus. Undoing bad laws shouldn't need FDR sized majorities. If the GOP use simple majority power to end Social Security or legalize corporate personhood, defeat them and then repeal those laws using the same simple majority power. I know what this feels like, I am a Canadian liberal living under a majority Conservative parliamentary government. Stephen Harper can do anything subject to the Canadian Constitutional limits. He could sell the CBC, or repeal universal health care. I am reasonably sure he won't because he'll be resoundingly defeated and these decisions reversed if he tries. The same logic can work in America.
Why would Merkley and other good Democrats deceive me?
Look, they're part of a very exclusive club and they need their peers to get by. They can't be the ones to stop clapping for Tinkerbell, but we on the outside need to see this filibuster thing for the simple gentleman's agreement it really always was. Senate rules are not etched in stone, they're chalk on a blackboard. Wiped away easily. We should not enable Senate illusions to be sold to the public. We are demanding the Senate behave as a majority rule institution because it always really was when you peel away the sophistry of the rules. Just because you write a note on the fridge that says "don't eat the chocolate cake" because you're on a diet doesn't mean you can really tell people "I am unable to eat the chocolate cake, the note says so" - because you can always tear the note down and write a new one. Your obedience to the note is purely voluntary.
I want Reid to just "make them talk"
Under the current rules, he simply can't do that. All the "filibuster" actually requires is one Senator objecting to unanimous consent requests to move to a vote. S/he doesn't have to debate. Just object. If the majority doesn't keep 50 Senators in the chamber, this one senator can "suggest the absence of a quorum" and the President will have to call the roll (Wasting even more time). To invoke cloture, the majority needs to wrangle up 60 Senators, the minority doesn't need any votes at all. A 59-0 vote to invoke cloture is a "defeat" and "debate" continues.
A Previous Leader Reid Has Already Done this
The House used to also have supermajority requirements. Speaker Reid (a hopeful irony!) decided he'd had enough, had a firm grasp on his simple majority caucus, and simply overrode these provisions. You can look up the details if you like, but that's what it boils down to. He decided not to accept their crap, and since his caucus supported him, he ended the "disappearing quorum" practice as well as some other minority obstruction tricks.