NEW YORK (FORTUNE) - For the fourth time since he became president in 2001, George Bush has sent his Treasury secretary to Capitol Hill, hat in hand, to ask for an increase in the federal debt ceiling (currently $8.18 trillion).
As lawmakers hem and haw, the Treasury Department is raiding the civil service retirement trust fund to pay the government's bills. If Congress fails to act before it goes on recess next week, it's possible that the United States will default on its obligations -- rocking global financial markets and possibly leaving Americans stuck with higher interest rates for decades to come.
Outrageous, isn't it? But which is the most outrageous part: That the current president and Congress don't seem interested in even trying to balance the federal budget, or that the United States regularly risks default because of an arbitrary ceiling that bears no relation to the nation's ability to service its debts or its true long-term fiscal obligations?