Policy Feature Issue: History of Debt Limit Increases

Since 1978, the debt limit has been raised fifty-three times.[1]  Twenty-seven of these increases have been accompanied by additional legislative action.[2]  Both Congress and the President have used debt limit extensions to extract policy concessions.

Facts You Need to Know:

  • Total federal debt subject to the debt limit is more than 100% of national GDP.[3]  Total federal public debt accounts for 73% and debt held by the government accounts for the remaining share.[4]
  • Total national debt exceeds $16.7 trillion,[5] $5.7 trillion of which has been added under President Obama.[6]
  • Of the 53 debt limit increases since 1978, 27 debt limit increases have been accompanied by additional legislative action.
  • Continuation of this trend is largely supported by the public: 61% think “it is right to require spending cuts when the debt ceiling is raised even if it risks default.”[7]
  • Numerous years have seen more than one short-term debt limit increase, to allow time for negotiations between Congress and the President.  In 1990, a Democratic House and Senate voted for seven debt limit increases: 6 short-term increases, followed by a seventh, long-term increase.
  • Seven of the fourteen debt limit increases since 2001 have occurred under President Obama.[8]

Debt Limit Increases from 1978 to 2013 Accompanied by Additional Legislative Action[9]:

Year of Enactment

Bill Number

Public Law Number & Date of Enactment

Type of Measure

Notes on the Measure

1979

H.R. 2534

P.L. 96-5
4/02/1979

Change to Debt Limit included as provision within measure on other matters

P.L. 96-5 included an increase in savings bonds yields and required Congress and the President to present budgets that would be in balance for FY1981 and FY1982. See also H.Res. 183, a resolution concurring in amendments to H.R. 2534 as passed by the Senate. H.Res. 183 was passed by the House on April 2, 1979, by a vote of 209-165. House Roll Vote #133.

H.R. 5369

P.L. 96-78
9/29/1979

Change to Debt Limit included within measure on other matters

P.L. 96-78 included an increase in the amount of long-term bonds that could be outstanding and established House Rule 49 making the increase in the debt limit part of the budget process (in the House).

1980

H.R. 7428

P.L. 96-264
6/06/1980

Change to Debt Limit included within measure on other matters

P.L. 96-264 included a repeal of the Presidentially imposed oil import fee under Section 232(b) of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, 19 U.S.C. 18629(b). This legislation was passed over a Presidential veto.

1983

H.R. 2990

P.L. 98-34
5/26/1983

Change to Debt Limit included within measure on other matters

P.L. 98-34 included making the whole debt limit permanent and increasing the amount of long-term bonds that could be issued.

1984

H.R. 5692

P.L. 98-302
5/25/1984

Change to Debt Limit included within measure on other matters

P.L. 98-302 included an increase in the amount of long-term bonds that could be issued and provided some miscellaneous administrative authority to the Secretary of the Treasury.

1985

H.R. 3721

P.L. 99-155
11/14/1985

Change to Debt Limit included within measure on other matters

P.L. 99-155 included a requirement to restore Social Security Trust Funds and to extend for a month a number of expiring acts, including a cigarette tax.

H.J.Res. 372

P.L. 99-177
12/12/1985

Change in Debt Limit included as part of Balanced Budget and Deficit Reduction measure

H.J.Res. 372, enacted asP.L. 99-177, was also a vehicle for the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Reduction Act of 1985. The legislation also required the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee to report by July 1, 1986, legislation for alternative minimum corporate tax.

1986

H.R. 5300

P.L. 99-509
10/21/1986

Change to Debt Limit included in Budget Reconciliation measure

P.L. 99-509, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986, included a debt limit increase to Section 8201 of Title VII of the act. Section 8201 also required the restoration of lost interest to certain trust funds.

1987

H.J.Res. 324

P.L. 100-119
9/29/1987

Change in Debt Limit included as part of a Balanced Budget and Deficit Reduction measure

H.J.Res. 324 was also used as the legislative vehicle for the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control and Reaffirmation Act of 1987.

1989

H.R. 3024

P.L. 101-72
8/07/1989

Change to Debt Limit within measure on other matters

P.L. 101-72 included a change in the method of accounting for federal debt instruments.

H.J.Res. 280

P.L. 101-140
11/08/1989

Change in Debt Limit included within measure on other matters

Pursuant to the provisions of H.Con.Res. 106, the FY1990 Budget Resolution, H.J.Res. 280, was considered passed by the House on May 17, 1989. The House vote on the Conference Report forH.Con.Res. 106 was 241-185. P.L. 101-140included a repeal of Section 89 nondiscrimination, rules that dealt with employee benefit plans.

1990

H.J.Res. 666

P.L. 101-412
10/09/1990

Change in Debt Limit included within measure on other matters

H.J.Res. 666 was a continuing appropriations measure that included a debt limit extension. The House initially passed the measure by a vote of 305-105 on October 7, 1990. The Senate took up the measure and then passed it by unanimous consent. The House then passed the Senate amended measure on October 9, 1990, by a vote of 362-3. The measure passed the Senate by unanimous consent on October 8, 1990, and was enacted as P.L. 101-412 on October 9, 1990

H.J.Res. 677

P.L. 101-444
10/19/1990

Change in Debt Limit included in a continuing resolution

None

H.J.Res. 681

P.L. 101-461
10/25/1990

Change in Debt Limit included in a continuing resolution

None

H.J.Res. 687

P.L. 101-467
10/28/1990

Change in Debt Limit included in a continuing resolution

None

H.R. 5835

P.L. 101-508
11/05/1990

Change to Debt Limit included in Budget Reconciliation measure

A debt limit increase was included in Section 11901 of Title XI of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, P.L. 101-508.

1993

H.R. 2264

P.L. 103-66
8/10/1993

Change to Debt Limit included in Budget Reconciliation measure

A debt limit increase was included in Section 13411 of Title XIII of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, P.L. 103-66.

1996

H.R. 2924

P.L. 104-103
2/08/1996

Addressed parameters and temporary exemptions of certain Social Security related funds from the debt limit

P.L. 104-103 temporarily exempted from limit obligations in an amount equal to the monthly insurance benefits payable under Title II of the Social Security Act in March 1996, The exemption was set to expire in the event of an increase in the debt limit or by March 15, 1996.P.L. 104-115 temporarily exempted from limit obligations in an amount equal to the monthly insurance benefits payable under Title II of the Social Security Act in March 1996 and certain obligations issued to trust funds and other Federal Government accounts, The exemption was set to expire on the earlier of an increase in the limit or by March 30, 1996.

H.R. 3021

P.L. 104-115
3/12/1996

Addressed parameters and temporary exemptions of certain Social Security related funds from the debt limit

P.L. 104-115 temporarily exempted from limit obligations in an amount equal to the monthly insurance benefits payable under Title II of the Social Security Act in March 1996 and certain obligations issued to trust funds and other Federal Government accounts. The exemption was set to expire on the earlier of an increase in the limit or by March 30, 1996.

H.R. 3136

P.L. 104-121
3/29/1996

Change to Debt Limit within measure on other matters

P.L. 104-121, theContract with America Advancement Act, included an increase in the debt limit in Title III.

1997

H.R. 2015

P.L. 105-33
8/05/1997

Change to the Debt Limit included in Balanced Budget measure

P.L. 107-199, theBalanced Budget Act of 1997 included a debt limit increase in Title V, Subtitle G.

2008

H.R. 3221

P.L. 110-289
7/30/2008

Change to Debt Limit included within measure on other matters

H.R. 3221 (P.L. 110-289), the Housing and Economic Recovery Act, included an increase to the debt limit.

2008

H.R. 1424

P.L. 110-343
10/03/2008

Change to Debt Limit included within measure on other matters

H.R. 1424 (P.L. 110-343), the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, included an increase to the debt limit.

2009

H.R. 1

P.L. 111-5
2/17/2009

Change to Debt Limit included within measure on other matters

H.R. 1 (P.L. 111-5), the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, included an increase to the debt limit.

2010

H.J.Res. 45

P.L. 111-139
2/12/2010

Change to Debt Limit included within measure on other matters

During final consideration of H.J.Res. 45, the House took up a portion of the bill passed by the Senate with an amendment that included an increase to the debt limit and passed this portion of the measure on February 4, 2010. The bill also included provisions related to “Statutory PAYGO,” and elimination of “duplicative and wasteful spending.”

2011

S. 365

P.L. 112-258/02/2011

Change to Debt Limit included within measure addressing deficit reduction

Final legislation was in the form of a House amendment in the nature of a substitute to a previously unrelated Senate bill. The Budget Control Act of 2011 as enacted includes provisions aimed at deficit reduction and an increase of up to $2.4 trillion that would occur in several stages.

2013

H.R. 325

P.L. 113-302/04/2013

Suspended the federal debt limit temporarily. Other matters within the measure address the annual budget resolution

P.L. 113-3 temporarily suspended the statutory federal debt limit through May 18, 2013, and allows the federal government to continue to borrow beyond the $16.394 billion limit set under provisions within P.L. 112-25, the Budget Control Act of 2011. Additional provisions require House and Senate payroll administrators to hold all Member salary compensation if by April 15, 2013, that chamber has not agreed to a concurrent budget resolution for FY2014.

 

 

 

 

Additional Information:

CRS: Votes on Measures to Adjust the Statutory Debt Limit, 1978 to Present(*See Table 3 for debt limit measures that were accompanied by additional legislative action)

 


[2] Id. at Table 3.

[3] CRS: The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases (Oct. 10, 2013) at Table 1.

[4] CBO: The 2013 Long-Term Budget Outlook (Sep. 2013) at 1.

[7] Bloomberg News National Poll (Sep. 27, 2013) at 3.

[8] This figure includes three votes taken pursuant to the Budget Control Act (BCA).  More information is available at CRS: The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases (Oct. 2013).