New York (CNNMoney.com) - In the past five years, the administrations of both parties have tried to reform three big-ticket items: the tax code, health care and Social Security.
The reform efforts would have helped put the federal budget on a more sustainable course.
But all have been tabled in one form or another because of partisan resistance to key ideas.
Now policymakers' work is infinitely harder as they wake up to the realization that they must deal soon with the country's long-term fiscal problems.
At stake ultimately is the United States' status as a first-class economy.
"It's going to take bold strokes to deal with this challenge. It's going to take big ideas, and it's going to take political courage because it's every hot-button issue that's out there. It is Social Security. It is Medicare. It is revenue. All of them," said Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., at a hearing last week on fiscal sustainability.