10/20/2015 07:22 pm ET

Senate Republicans Eye Change To Filibuster Rules

Sen. Lamar Alexander will lead a panel looking at whether the GOP should make it easier to pass bills.

WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans are eyeing new changes to Senate rules that would make it easier for the majority party to take up and pass legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who bitterly opposed Democrats' use of the so-called nuclear option in the last Congress to break filibusters of presidential nominations, tapped several members of his caucus to look into whether new changes need to be made to improve the legislative process, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told reporters Tuesday.

"Sen. McConnell has asked a group of five of us to take a look at the Senate rules and see if there’s a way we could make the Senate more effective and still preserve the Senate’s traditional rule as a protector of minority rights," Alexander said.

When Democrats changed the rules for nominations, they used a complicated procedural ploy dubbed the "nuclear option" in which they forced a series of precedent-setting votes on rules that essentially said the filibuster would no longer apply to most executive nominations. The changes allowed nominees to be approved by a majority of senators, instead of requiring 60 votes.

McConnell and many other Republicans called the move "breaking the rules to change the rules" because it normally takes 67 votes in the Senate to make such procedural modifications.

The issue has resurfaced because many conservatives in the House are angry that the bills they pass cannot win approval in the Senate, where Democrats have more than the 40 votes needed to filibuster.

So, some have called for the nuclear option not just on nominations, but on legislation.

Asked about the new panel, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) seemed unimpressed.

"That's up to Sen. McConnell," Reid told The Huffington Post. "He's the Republican leader. He has to deal with his folks. I don't."

Indeed, although Democrats have blocked numerous bills in this Congress, the new panel may be more of an attempt to deal with right-wing members of the GOP, who have repeatedly threatened to block legislation that McConnell wants.

Alexander has been an outspoken critic of rules changes, and his selection to head the panel, along with Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and three new members -- Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) -- suggests any proposals from the group are likely to be modest.

"We’re going to take a look at it for a few weeks, discuss it within our caucus," Alexander said. "After we get a sense of what our caucus thinks, we’ll probably sit down with the Democratic leadership and see what the Democrats think."

And, while he did not expressly pledge to avoid the nuclear option, Alexander made clear he disagrees with its use.

"The right way to change the rules is to follow the rules, and the rules say that takes 67 votes," Alexander said.

Jennifer Bendery contributed reporting.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.