For all of the melodrama preceding it, Thursday's Senate floor vote to change a rule and prevent filibusters on certain administration nominees wasn't very dramatic — "people in dark suits milling around on blue carpet," as The Atlantic's Molly Ball put it. Dubbed the "nuclear option" to suggest that the move bore the risk of apocalyptic change, nothing about the 52 to 48 vote seemed, in the moment, all that interesting. What, then, does the change actually mean?
(Aside: If you were hoping for a headline that included "nuclear fallout," there are plenty available.)
It means that President Obama is empowered to pursue his agenda.
The most immediate and obvious effect of the rules change is that it is easier for the Senate's Democratic majority to approve nominees to federal agencies and the judiciary, except for the Supreme Court. Such nominees, like the three Obama nominated to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and whose filibusters were the spur for the rules shift, can no longer be held up by the opposition of 40-or-so senators. To block appointments to courts or federal agencies, Republicans would need 51 votes — a majority.
The approval of those appeals court judges may have significant ramifications down the line. But for the three years remaining in the Obama administration, the change is likely more important for those agency appointments. National Journal points out that the president can now assume that his nominees to the Independent Payment Advisory Board will be approved — a body that is responsible for determining how to make Medicare cuts that are a key part of Obamacare. It also means, as The Washington Post notes, that Obama has more flexibility in firing Cabinet members that aren't performing to his standards — after all, a bruising confirmation fight just became much less likely. The Huffington Post notes other effects to that end: the likely confirmation of Janet Yellen to run the Federal Reserve, approval of appointees to the Fed's Board of Governors, the approval of Mel Watt to run the Federal Housing Finance Agency.