Since 1939 when the first legislative limit covering all public debt was imposed, an unbroken succession of Congresses has voted to raise the debt limit when requested by the president. Whether Capitol Hill was under the control of Republicans or Democrats — whether the requesting chief executive was a Democrat or a Republican, the nation’s debt ceiling has been raised when the statutory limit has been reached.

And why? Because the United States must pay its bills. The debt limit doesn’t authorize new spending. It simply allows the country to meet already incurred legal obligations.

Reducing the deficit should not be tied to raising the debt ceiling. Deficit reduction is a discussion unto itself. Mixing that up with the ability of the United States to pay its obligations is cynicism and political gamesmanship at its worse. The Democrats, led by President Obama, were wrong to even follow Republicans down that road.

It’s not to late for a course correction. Democrats should step back and demand that Congress unconditionally meet the nation’s financial obligations by raising the debt limit. And congressional Republicans should quit playing with fire like delinquents and start behaving like responsible adults.

Otherwise America’s default, and the international financial catastrophe that will ensue, can and will be laid where it belongs, at the feet of Capitol Hill Republicans.