The two most visible figures in the U.S. debt crisis, House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama, are busy playing 2012 politics. So busy that they're overlooking four inconvenient truths:
• Our federal government isn't merely stuck with almost $15 trillion in debt. That debt grows by some $4 billion a day or, if this is easier to grasp, some $3 million every minute.
• One continent to the east, Greece and a cluster of other nations that foolishly chose not to keep their debt loads sustainable are edging closer to default. Remember, one ratings agency already has downgraded U.S. creditworthiness -- and, this summer, the prospect of more downgrades briefly united our political class around a deal to avoid that fate.
• That slashing of U.S. deficits has to include substantial constraints on future entitlement spending -- the biggest driver in the federal budget -- as well as higher revenues. Our oft-stated preference: a spending-cuts-to-higher-revenues ratio of 3 or 4 to 1.
• The most inconvenient truth for Washington pols: The American people expect members of Congress and the president to solve this unfolding crisis before it further dims America's economic future.
Instead of solutions, though, citizens get election-cycle rhetoric.
Boehner didn't help move Washington and the nation closer to a meaningful deficits deal with his insistence that tax increases cannot be part of it.
Nor did Obama help with his one-upmanship of Boehner's irresponsible ultimatum: The president said he will veto any bill that lowers Medicare benefits but doesn't raise taxes on the wealthy.
His retreat from specific entitlement reforms he tacitly endorsed this summer in effect says the greatest threat to government solvency isn't as important as his reelection.
If the problem Boehner and Obama aren't fixing were less momentous, we could dismiss their theatrics as their opening positions in negotiations. Each man wants to be seen by his party's purist base as a tough guy who won't get pummeled in deficit reduction bargaining.
Except ... wait ... Boehner and Obama aren't negotiating. They failed to reach a grand bargain this summer. So they're sidelined.
No, the job of reaching a long-range deficit deal instead rests, for now, with the so-called "supercommittee" of Congress -- a bipartisan, bicameral group of 12 lawmakers tasked to deliver results by Nov. 23.
That urgency, coupled with the posturing of Boehner and Obama, gives supercommittee members reason to infer a two-rule mandate from the American people: