Budget Counsel Reference Directory

Public Debt Limit

Summary

Public Debt Limit.—The debt is statutorily limited in section 3101 of title 31 of the U.S. Code. 

Before 1917 Congress generally controlled individual issues of debt. In September 1917, while raising funds for the United States’ entry into World War I, Congress also imposed an aggregate limit on federal debt in addition to individual issuance limits. Over time, Congress granted Treasury Secretaries more leeway in debt management. In 1939, Congress agreed to impose an aggregate limit that gave the U.S. Treasury authority to manage the structure of federal debt.

The statutory debt limit applies to almost all federal debt. Approximately 0.5% of total debt is excluded from debt limit coverage. The Treasury defines “Total Public Debt Subject to Limit” as “the Total Public Debt Outstanding less Unamortized Discount on Treasury Bills and Zero- Coupon Treasury Bonds, old debt issued prior to 1917, and old currency called United States Notes, as well as Debt held by the Federal Financing Bank and Guaranteed Debt.”

Links

Current Level of the Public Debt and Past Daily Levels

Department of the Treasury: Debt Limit

Debt Subject to Limit (Graph)

 

Debt Limit Increases

Public Debt Increases

2018: March Increase in Debt Limit (“Temporary” Suspension of Borrowing)


References

CRS – The Debt Limit Since 2011 (R43389) March 29, 2018

CRS – The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases (RL31967) November 2, 2015

CRS – The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases (RL31967) October 15, 2013

Recent Legislation, Budget Control Act of 2011: Congress Delegates Power to Raise the Debt Ceiling, 125 HARV. L. REV. 867, (2011).

New York Times – Debt and Line-Item-Veto Bills Approved (NY Times) March 29, 1996

 

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[BCR §067]