NOW With Alex Wagner, 12/26/12, 7:00 PM ET

Filibuster fight in the Senate

The biggest hurdle to President Obama’s second term agenda: filibuster. The strategy was once considered a talkative way to stop action in the Senate, but these days, Senators have super-sized the tactic with a constant stream of silent filibusters....

Will Democrats go nuclear on filibuster reform?


Once used by the minority party to object to legislation it strenuously disagreed with, the practice of using the filibuster to routinely stall and delay bills proposed by the majority party has increased exponentially in recent years.

Two items on President Obama’s second-term agenda–immigration and climate change–would both be the law of the land right now were it not for the filibuster. Both measures  passed the House of Representatives and had a majority of support in the US Senate, but not enough to overcome the 60-vote “super majority” needed in today’s Senate.

Democrats have pledged to tackle filibuster reform at the beginning of the next Congress and are mulling the use of the so-called “nuclear option” as a means of achieving it. On Thursday, the main architect of the reform effort, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), stopped by the show to talk about his efforts.

After making calls to Democratic senators Thursday, NOW estimates Merkley’s plan to re-institute the “talking filibuster” –the idea that you actually have to stand on the Senate floor and speak in order to delay legislation–has the support of 48 Democratic senators, three votes shy of the 51-vote majority needed to implement reform using the nuclear option.

Those Democrats who are yet to get behind Merkley’s effort are: Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Pat Leahy (D-VT), Carl Levin (D-MI), Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Jack Reed (D-RI).

Asked why some Democrats were so reluctant to sign on to his plan, Merkley declined to take his fellow colleagues to task. “Folks have been here often for a very long time, saying we can always make a gentleman’s agreement to make this place work, but quite frankly we’ve tried that,” he said. “There are folks very reluctant to change the rules.”

Merkley didn’t say whether he expected his reform effort to pass or not, but noted that one obvious benefit of re-instituting the “talking filibuster” would be that it would lead to more transparency in the upper chamber. Instead of legislation dying on the Senate floor via secret filibusters, under the new rules, those trying to gum up the works would be visible for all to see.

“The American people would be able to weigh in on whether these people are bums or heroes,” Merkley said.

Will Democrats go nuclear on filibuster reform?