Harry Reid’s tirade against Republican obstruction yesterday came just after I wrote here that filibuster reform is likely if Democrats have a good election cycle and reclaim unified control of Congress and the White House.

Ezra Klein calls Reid’s statement a “big step towards filibuster reform,” and talks about what will happen in 2013. The truth is, however, that it could be even bigger than that. One reason that Republicans have been able to establish a true 60 vote Senate, in which absolutely everything is filibustered and almost everything needs 60 votes, is that Harry Reid has allowed them to do it. Reid, and the Democratic majority, could have served notice back in 2009 that they just weren’t going to put up with it – that if Republicans persisted in filibustering even legislation and nominations that they actually supported, Democrats would “go nuclear” and change the rules, by majority vote, right then and there.

Granted, this would be a bit tricky. In my view, those things which “should” be filibustered are those that the minority feels most strongly about, which not coincidentally are often things that the majority, too, cares about deeply. Reid would be in a position of “allowing” filibusters (that is, not threatening to change the rules over them) precisely over the things that his party was most engaged in. However, that’s also why I suspect it’s a threat that would have worked, and can still work.

By protecting the rights of individual Senators, Harry Reid has been acting like a traditional guardian of the Senate. Unfortunately, what he’s fighting against has had nothing to do with Senate traditions (as Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein point out), and everything to do with partisan gain. In this case, the only way to ultimately guard the strengths of the Senate, including the ability of individual Senators to wield influence, is to threaten to change the rules – because the rules alone aren’t up to the job. It’s Reid’s failure to do that, just as much as GOP efforts to exploit the rules, that have put the Senate’s strengths in jeopardy.

It’s good to see Reid starting to fight back, but it’s not enough. The next step for him shouldn’t be waiting until January. The next step, in my view, should be an ultimatum that if Republicans don’t allow timely votes on every executive branch nomination and at least every Federal district court nomination that he’ll go nuclear sometime this summer. The bottom line: a Senate that can’t function also can’t protect the rights of individual Senators. It’s about time that Harry Reid noticed.