Not that Congress will take action, but President Barack Obama goes through the fiscal ritual of releasing his budget for the federal government in the coming week. The place to watch for how it's greeted is not the Rose Garden or the halls of Congress. It's the bond market.
On Wednesday, the White House will roll out its plan to spend almost $4 trillion while it collects closer to $3 trillion in taxes and other fees in the next fiscal year. The difference, whatever it may be, is how much money Uncle Sam would have to borrow to make ends meet.
Republicans will say the president's budget is not a serious docu
ment because it doesn't do enough to narrow the gap between spending and tax collections fast enough. Democrats will counter that the GOP plan to reduce spending without addressing taxes would choke off today's paltry economic growth. In the meantime, the voters that count the most continue to show incredible patience.
Investors in U.S. government bonds are willing to accept meager returns on their investments, allowing the Treasury Department to borrow money at incredibly low interest rates. A U.S. government I.O.U. due in 2023 pays a lender about 2 percent per year. Try finding a loan for yourself at that rate.
Regardless of politics, the bond market will decide for the government when its overspending days are over. The recent stock-market highs may help improve investors' attitudes, but it's low interest rates that shelter Washington from its own appetites.
Tom Hudson, a financial journalist based in Miami, is the former co-anchor and managing editor of "Nightly Business Report" on public television. Follow him on Twitter HudsonsView.