A collection of 80 or so chief executives of the country’s most prominent companies brought an overdue element of reality to the discussion about how to address the huge federal budget deficit. On Thursday, the executives released a statement directed at Washington, arguing that for any deficit plan to “succeed, both financially and politically,” it must include spending reductions and tax increases.

This is the balanced, pragmatic and responsible approach required. The executives expressed their preference for additional revenues to come from closing tax breaks. What should be plain is that the country has room for tax increases — once the economy gains sufficient strength. The United States ranks near the bottom of the 34 leading industrialized nations in total tax revenues as a percentage of gross domestic product — landing between Chile and Turkey.

The chief executives view the approach of the Simpson-Bowles commission — about $3 in spending cuts for every $1 of tax increases — as an “effective framework.” Actually, a closer examination shows Simpson-Bowles closer to a 50-50 split, as another bipartisan panel has proposed. Worth noting is that President Obama and Congress already have set in motion $2 trillion in spending cuts, getting halfway to the reduction outlined in the Simpson-Bowles package.

Telling, too, is which candidate for president shares the thinking of the commission and the chief executives. Mitt Romney holds to the easy talk about relying on spending cuts alone, even as the arithmetic indicates he more likely would add to the deficit. President Obama has agreed to cuts. He has been waiting for a partner to accept what the chief executives acknowledge: This job cannot be accomplished without tax increases.