The current tax-and-spending debate only flirts with what these insiders say needs to be done. Instead, top White House and congressional leaders talk privately of the need for tax reform that goes way beyond individuals and rates; much deeper Social Security and Medicare changes than currently envisioned; quick movement on trade agreements, including a proposed one with Europe; an energy policy that exploits the oil and gas boom; and allowing foreign-born students with science expertise to stay here and start businesses.

Do this and there could be not an economic recovery — but a boom, many argue.

“Both Democrats and Republicans privately agree,” Warren Buffett told us. “They just don’t want to be the first to speak out on their side.” Erskine Bowles, a Democrat who meets regularly with officials at the White House and in Congress, said lawmakers often plead to him: “Save us from ourselves.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) recalls a clinic Bowles held for senators on long-term fiscal issues. Of the 45 senators who came in and out, almost all agreed on what needed to be done — but few wanted to say it. The reasons are simple: the polarization of Congress, the habit of wanting to claim a political triumph instead of being party to a bipartisan policy win and the belief the other side simply isn’t on the level and trustworthy.