In one sense, that means nothing has changed—the filibuster is still every bit as intact as it was before the confrontation began. At the same time, however, Democrats showed that they have the ability to stop Republicans from using it by doing little more than telling the GOP to choose between stopping their abuse of the filibuster or eliminating it altogether.
That's about right. Look, I want the filibuster good and dead. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wasn't going to give us that anyway—today's showdown was supposed to be focused entirely on administration nominees and only administration nominees. That would leave Republicans free to continue obstructing on judicial appointments and legislation.
True, today's deal preserved the existing filibuster rule, but it really didn't. Democrats established that they could bust through any filibuster with a simple majority anytime they wanted. Sure, it's still a process to do so, full of blustery threats and hyperbolic doomsaying, but it's a process.
And best of all, it won't be limited to just administration appointments. Republicans have conceded that Democrats can change the filibuster rule at will, and they clearly understand that the will to do so exists.
So Democrats can now wield this against Republican obstructionism in legislation and judicial matters as well.
Don't get your hopes too high—bullshit Senate "collegiality" still means that Democrats will suffer way too much obstruction. And in matters of legislation, some bipartisanship is necessary in the Senate for any bill to have a prayer in the Republican-controlled House.
But if Republicans continue to prevent up-or-down votes on further administration officials, or perhaps more importantly, judicial ones, Democrats now have a tool to force action. And that means we've come a long way from a few years ago, when Senate Democrats simply shrugged at the inevitability of the GOP filibuster arguing they had no other option.
If we had this four years ago, for example, we'd have a far better health care law. But late is better than never.