President Obama and the Democrats created a new government agency a few years ago called the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. They were really proud of it.
Republicans hated the new agency, considering it a stifling new bureacracy, and wanted it dead. They tried to stop it from getting off the ground, even going so far as to try and prevent Obama from appointing someone to run the new agency.
Republicans knew they didn't have enough votes to stop the nomination, so they repeatedly used a filibuster to prevent a vote from even happening.
But this wasn't the kind of filibuster where someone talks for hours on end, it was a filibuster taking advantage of a pre-vote procedure that requires a supermajority to simply allow a vote. Basically, everyone sits around and nothing happens.
The Republicans have been using this parliamentary tactic to block many of Obama's appointments, and Democrats were getting sick of it.
Democrats were fed up with what they consider obstructionism. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week decided it was time to threaten what's been dubbed "the nuclear option."
The nuclear option would allow the majority party (as of now the Democrats) to change the voting procedures and allow a simple majority vote, eliminating the pre-vote filibuster all together.
Moderates in both parties got really nervous, as the nuclear option would set a dangerous precedent that would essentially eliminate any power the minority party might have. Normally at odds, many Democrats and Republicans teamed up and urged compromise.
But the mere threat of the nuclear option was powerful enough to get Republicans to budge on allowing up-or-down votes for some of Obama's nominees, including the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that triggered this whole fight.
This probably won't be the last time the threat of the nuclear option rears its head, though. Republicans have used it when they were in power, and Democrats may use it yet again if the filibuster remains a popular tactic.
UPDATE: Frustrated by ongoing efforts to block President Obama's nominees, Senate Democrats enacted the nuclear option on some filibusters. So now, when Republicans are prevented from stopping certain appointments, Harry Reid will be all like:
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