The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases

04.12.11 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

A statutory limit on total federal debt has been in place since 1917.  In the past decade, Congress has voted to raise the debt limit ten times and it will now have to do so once again.

The history of the debt limit and its current implications were discussed in a recently updated report from the Congressional Research Service. See “The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases” (pdf), March 7, 2011. And see, relatedly, “Reaching the Debt Limit: Background and Potential Effects on Government Operations,” February 11, 2011.

Reports from the Congressional Research Service have become such an integral part of the national policymaking process that two CRS reports were cited this month in an opinion (pdf) issued by the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel concerning the President’s constitutional authority to use military force in Libya.

One of the reports addressed “Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2010” and the other was on “Haiti: Developments and U.S. Policy Since 1991 and Current Congressional Concerns.

Remarkably, however, neither of the CRS reports that was cited in the OLC opinion is available on any congressional website, since Congress stubbornly opposes direct public access to CRS products.  To find them online, one must turn to non-congressional websites.