The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
Total debt of the federal government can increase in two ways. First, debt increases when the
government sells debt to the public to finance budget deficits and acquire the financial resources
needed to meet its obligations. This increases debt held by the public. Second, debt increases
when the federal government issues debt to certain government accounts, such as the Social
Security, Medicare, and Transportation trust funds, in exchange for their reported surpluses. This
increases debt held by government accounts. The sum of debt held by the public and debt held by
government accounts is the total federal debt. Surpluses generally reduce debt held by the public,
while deficits raise it.
A statutory limit has restricted total federal debt since 1917 when Congress passed the Second
Liberty Bond Act. Congress has raised the debt limit five times since 2001. Deficits each year
since 2001 and the persistent increases in debt held by government accounts repeatedly raised the
debt to or near the limit in place at the time. Congress raised the limit in June 2002, and by
December 2002 the U.S. Department of the Treasury asked Congress for another increase, which
was passed in May 2003. In June 2004, the Treasury asked for another debt limit increase. After
Congress recessed in mid-October 2004 without acting, the Secretary of the Treasury told
Congress that the actions he was taking to avoid exceeding the debt limit would suffice only
through mid-November. Congress approved a debt limit increase in a post-election session, which
the President signed on November 19, 2004.
In 2005, Congress included debt limit raising reconciliation instructions in the FY2006 budget
resolution (H.Con.Res. 95). Approval of the budget resolution in April 2005 triggered the
automatic passage of a debt limit increase in the House. With no action having been taken by
December 2005, the Secretary of the Treasury sent several letters warning Congress that the
Treasury would exhaust its options to avoid default by mid-March 2006. Congress passed an
increase in mid-March, which the President signed on March 20.
The House’s adoption of the conference report on the FY2008 budget resolution in the spring of
2007 automatically created and deemed passed legislation (H.J.Res. 43) raising the debt limit by
$850 billion to $9,815 billion. The Senate approved the resolution on September 27, 2007, and it
was signed by the President two days later. The 2008 economic slowdown has led to sharply
higher estimates of the FY2008 deficit, raising the prospect of another debt limit increase. The
budget resolution conference report (S.Con.Res. 70), passed by the Senate on June 4, 2008, and
the House the next day, recommends spending levels that would require an increased debt limit in
FY2009. House passage of the FY2009 budget resolution automatically created and deemed
passed legislation to raise the debt limit (H.J.Res. 92). A debt limit increase was included in the
Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (H.R. 3221) and signed into law (P.L. 110-289) on
July 30. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (H.R. 1424), signed into law on
October 3 (P.L. 110-343), raised the debt limit for the second time in 2008. The debt limit now
stands at $11,315 billion. This report will be updated as events warrant.
Introduc tion ..................................................................................................................................... 1
The Debt Limit and the Treasury..............................................................................................1
Why Have a Debt Limit?..........................................................................................................1
A Brief History of the Federal Debt Limit......................................................................................2
Origins of the Federal Debt Limit.............................................................................................2
World War II and After..............................................................................................................3
The Debt Ceiling in the Last Decade..............................................................................................3
The Debt Limit Issue in 2002....................................................................................................4
Resolving the Debt Limit Issue in 2002..............................................................................6
The Debt Limit Issue in 2003....................................................................................................7
The Debt Limit Issue in 2004....................................................................................................8
The Debt Limit Issue in 2005, 2006, and 2007.........................................................................9
The 2008 Economic Slowdown and Federal Debt..................................................................10
Fiscal Policy Considerations.............................................................................................10
Raising the Debt Ceiling in 2008.......................................................................................11
Revised Deficit Estimates in 2008....................................................................................12
Figure 1. Components of Federal Debt As Percentage of GDP, FY1980-FY2007........................6
Table 1. Components of Debt Subject to Limit, FY1996-FY2007..................................................5
Table A-1.Components of Debt Subject to Limit by Month, September 2001-August
2008 ............................................................................................................................................ 16
Appendix. Debt Subject to Limit by Month Since September 2001.............................................16
Author Contact Information..........................................................................................................19
The statutory debt limit applies to almost all federal debt.1 The limit applies to federal debt held
by the public (that is, debt held outside the federal government itself) and to federal debt held by
the government’s own accounts. Federal trust funds, such as Social Security, Medicare, 2
Transportation, and Civil Service Retirement accounts, hold most of this internally held debt.
The government’s surpluses or deficits determine essentially all of the change in debt held by the 3
public. The government’s on-budget fiscal balance, which excludes a small U.S. Postal Service
net surplus or deficit and a large Social Security surplus of payroll taxes net of paid benefits, does 4
not directly affect debt held in government accounts. Increases or decreases in debt held by
government accounts result from net financial flows into accounts holding the debt, such as the
Social Security Trust Fund. Legal requirements and government accounting practices also affect 5
levels of debt held by government accounts.
Standard methods of financing federal activities or meeting government obligations used by the
U.S. Department of Treasury (Treasury) can be hobbled when federal debt nears its legal limit. If
the limit prevents the Treasury from issuing new debt to manage short-term cash flows or to
finance an annual deficit, the government may be unable to obtain the cash needed to pay its bills
or it may be unable to invest the surpluses of designated government accounts (federal trust
funds) in federal debt as generally required by law. In either case, the Treasury is left in a bind;
the law requires that the government’s legal obligations be paid, but the debt limit may prevent it
from issuing the debt that would allow it to do so.
The government’s income and outlays vary over the course of the year, producing monthly
surpluses and deficits that affect the level of debt, whether or not the government has a surplus or
deficit for the entire year. The government accounts holding federal debt also can experience
monthly deficits and surpluses, even if most of them currently show annual surpluses.
The debt limit, as noted above, can hinder the Treasury’s ability to manage the federal
government’s finances. In extreme cases, when the federal debt is very near its statutory limit, the
1 About 0.8% of total debt is excluded from debt limit coverage. As of April 2008, total public debt outstanding was
$9.368 trillion; debt subject to limit was $9.289 trillion or 99.2% of total public debt outstanding. The Treasury defines
“Total Public Debt Subject to Limit” as “the Total Public Debt Outstanding less the Unamortized Discount on
Treasury Bills and Zero-Coupon Treasury Bonds, old debt issued before 1917, and old currency called United States
Notes, as well as Debt held by the Federal Financing Bank and Guaranteed Debt.”
2 Although there are hundreds of trust funds, the overwhelming majority are very small. The 12 largest trust funds hold
98.8% of the federal debt held in government accounts.
3 Other means of financing—including cash balance changes, seigniorage, and capitalization of financing accounts used
to fund federal credit programs—have relatively little effect on the changes in debt held by the public.
4 In future years, when some trust funds are projected to pay out more than they take in, funds that the Treasury would
use to redeem those intergovernmental debts must be obtained via higher taxes or lower government spending.
5 Trust fund surpluses by law must be invested in special federal government securities.
Treasury must take unusual and extraordinary measures to meet federal obligations.6 While the
debt limit has never caused the federal government to default on its obligations, it has at times
caused great inconvenience and has added uncertainty to Treasury operations.
The debt limit also provides Congress with the strings to control the federal purse, allowing 7
Congress to assert its constitutional prerogatives to control spending. The debt limit also imposes
a form of fiscal accountability, which compels Congress and the President to take visible action to
allow further federal borrowing when the federal government spends more than it collects in
revenues. In the words of one author, the debt limit “expresses a national devotion to the idea of 8
thrift and to economical management of the fiscal affairs of the government.”
The statutory limit on federal debt began with the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917,9 which 10
helped finance the United States’ entry into World War I. By allowing the Treasury to issue
long-term Liberty Bonds, which were marketed to the public at large, the federal government held 11
down its interest costs.
Before World War I, Congress authorized specific loans, such as the Panama Canal loan, or
allowed the Treasury to issue specific types of debt instruments, such as certificates of 12
indebtedness, bills, notes and bonds. In other cases, Congress provided the Treasury with 13
limited discretion to choose debt instruments.
With the passage of the Second Liberty Bond Act, Congress enacted aggregate constraints on
certificates of indebtedness and on bonds that allowed the Treasury greater ability to respond to
changing conditions and more flexibility in financial management. Debt limit legislation in the
following two decades also set separate limits for different categories of debt, such as bills,
certificates, and bonds.
6 U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), Analysis of Actions Taken during the 2003 Debt Issuance Suspension Period,
GAO-04-526, May 2004, available at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d04526.pdf.
7 For a vigorous assertion of the utility of the debt ceiling, see Anita S. Drishnakumar, “In Defense of the Debt Limit
Statute,” Harvard Journal on Legislation, vol. 42, 2005, pp. 135-185.
8 Marshall A. Robinson, The National Debt Ceiling: An Experiment in Fiscal Policy, Washington, DC: The Brookings
Institution, 1959, pp.5.
9 P.L. 65-43, 40 Stat. 288, enacted September 24, 1917. Currently codified as amended as 31 U.S.C. § 3101.
10 H. J. Cooke and M. Katzen, “The Public Debt Limit,” Journal of Finance, vol. 9, no. 3 (September 1954), pp. 298-
11 Robert D. Hormats, The Price of Liberty, (New York: Henry Holt, 2007), ch. 4.
12 Treasury certificates of indebtedness were short-term, interest-bearing securities. Treasury bills are securities with a
maturity of a year or less. Treasury notes are interest-bearing securities that generally have maturities of two to five
years. Treasury bonds are interest-bearing securities that generally have maturities of 10 or more years.
13 Marshall A. Robinson, The National Debt Ceiling: An Experiment in Fiscal Policy, (Washington, DC: The
Brookings Institution, 1959), pp.1-6.
In 1939, Congress eliminated separate limits on bonds and on other types of debt, which created 14
the first aggregate limit that covered nearly all public debt. This measure gave the Treasury freer
rein to manage the federal debt as it saw fit. In particular, the Treasury could choose to issue debt
instruments with maturities that would reduce interest costs and minimize financial risks 15
stemming from future interest rate changes given the conditions in financial markets. On the
other hand, although the Treasury was delegated greater independence of action, the debt limit on
the eve of World War II was much closer to total federal debt than it had been at the end of World
War I. For example, the 1919 Victory Liberty Bond Act (P.L. 65-328) raised the maximum
allowable federal debt to $43 billion, far above the $25.5 billion in total federal debt at the end of 16
FY1919. By contrast, the debt limit in 1939 was $45 billion, only about 10% above the $40.4
billion total federal debt of that time.
The debt ceiling was raised to accommodate accumulating costs for World War II in each year 17
from 1941 through 1945, when it was set at $300 billion. After World War II ended, the debt
limit was reduced to $275 billion. Because the Korean War was mostly financed by higher taxes
rather than by increased debt, the limit remained at $275 billion until 1954. After 1954, the debt
limit was reduced twice and increased seven times, until March 1962 when it again reached $300
billion, its level at the end of World War II. Since March 1962, Congress has enacted 69 separate 18
measures that have altered the limit on federal debt. Most of these changes in the debt limit
were, measured in percentage terms, small in comparison to changes adopted in wartime or
during the Great Depression. Some recent increases in the debt limit, however, were large in
dollar terms. For instance, in May 2003, the debt limit increased by $984 billion.
During the four years (FY1998-FY2001) the government ran surpluses, federal debt held by
intergovernmental accounts grew by $855 billion and debt held by the public fell by almost $450
billion. Since FY2001, however, debt held by the public grew continually due to persistent and
substantial budget deficits, as shown in Table 1, which shows components of debt in current 19
dollars and as percentages of gross domestic product (GDP). Debt held in government accounts
also continued to grow.
14 P.L. 76-201. Some authors claimed the aggregate limit was first created in Public Debt Act of 1941 (P.L. 77-7). The
1939 Senate floor debate, however, makes clear that Congress intended to lift categorical debt restrictions. See Senate
debate, Congressional Record, vol. 84, part 6 (June 1, 1939), pp. 6480, 6497-6501.
15 This limit did not apply to certain previous public debt issues that constituted a minor portion of the federal debt.
16U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970, H. Doc. 93-78
(Washington: GPO, 1975), Series Y 493-504.
17 Public Debt Acts of 1941 (P.L. 77-7), 1942 (P.L. 77-510), 1943 (78-34), 1944 (P.L. 78-333), and 1945 (P.L. 79-48).
18 U.S. Office of Management and Budget, FY2008 Budget of the U.S. Government: Historical Tables, Table 7-3.
19 Until 2001, government publications did not divide debt subject to limit into the portions held by the public and held
by government accounts. This discussion and Table 1 use CRS calculations that approximate the amounts of debt
subject to limit held in these two categories for fiscal years prior to 2001.
Figure 1 shows the components of federal debt as shares of gross domestic product (GDP) from 20
FY1980 through FY2007. Federal debt held by government accounts has grown steadily since
1980. Debt held by the public, which changes in response to total surpluses or deficits, grew as a
share of GDP through the mid-1990s. After FY1992, deficits shrank, and from FY1998 through 21
FY2001 the federal government ran surpluses. Those surpluses, along with rapid GDP growth,
reduced debt held by the public as a percentage of GDP. When large deficits returned and GDP
growth slowed in the early 2000s, debt held by the public as a share of GDP again increased.
Smaller deficits in FY2006 and FY2007 led to smaller increases in publicly held debt. The total 22
FY2007 deficit fell to 1.2% of GDP according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). As
the economy started to slow in the last quarter of (calendar) 2007, most forecasters predicted a
sharp increase in the federal deficit for FY2008, which put federal debt on track to exceed the
debt limit before the end of FY2009.
Accumulating debt in government accounts produced most of the pressure on the debt limit that
occurred early in 2002. As deficits reemerged in FY2002, increases in debt held by the public
added to the pressure on the debt limit in the spring of 2002. During the four fiscal years with
surpluses (FY1998-FY2001), the increases in federally held debt and decreases in debt held by
the public produced a net increase of $405 billion in total debt subject to limit. At the beginning
of FY2002 (October 1, 2001), debt subject to limit was within $217 billion of the existing $5.95 23
trillion debt limit. Between then and the end of May 2002, debt subject to limit increased by
another $217 billion, divided between a $117 billion increase in debt held by government
accounts and a $100 billion increase in debt held by the public, putting the debt close to the $5.95
trillion limit. Table A-1, presented in the Appendix, shows month-by-month debt totals and
accumulations from September 2001 through May 2008.
In the fall of 2001, the Administration recognized that a deteriorating budget outlook and
continued growth in debt held by government accounts were likely to lead to the debt limit soon
being reached. In early December 2001, it asked Congress to raise the debt limit by $750 billion
to $6.7 trillion. As the debt moved closer to and reached the debt limit over the first six months of
FY2002, the Administration asked Congress repeatedly to increase the debt limit, warning of
adverse financial consequences were the limit not raised.
On April 4, 2002, the Treasury held debt below the limit by invoking its legislatively mandated
authority to suspend reinvestment of government securities in the G-Fund of the federal
employees’ Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). This allowed the Treasury to issue new debt and meet the
government’s obligations. On April 15, debt subject to limit stood at $5,949,975 million, just $25
20 The data show components of debt compared to the size of the economy. This avoids possible distortions resulting
from changing price levels over time and includes changes in per capita incomes. This percentage increases when debt
grows faster than GDP and falls when it grows more slowly than GDP.
21Federal on-budget receipts and outlays nearly matched in FY1999, and the on-budget surplus in FY2000 was 0.9% of
GDP. Prior to FY1999, the federal government last had an on-budget surplus in FY1960. Social Security receipts in
excess of benefits comprise most of the off-budget surplus, which has been positive since FY1985.
22 U.S. Congress, Congressional Budget Office, An Analysis of the President’s Budgetary Proposals for Fiscal Year
2009, March 2008, available at http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/89xx/doc8990/03-19-AnalPresBudget.pdf.
23 The debt limit was raised from $5.5 trillion to $5.95 trillion on August 5, 1997, as part of the Balanced Budget Act of
1997 (P.L. 105-33, 111 Stat. 251).
million below the limit. Once April 15 tax revenues flowed in, the Treasury “made whole” the G-
Fund by restoring all of the debt that had not been issued to the TSP over this period and crediting 24
the fund with interest it would have earned on that debt. By the end of April, debt subject to
limit had fallen back $35 billion below the limit.
Table 1. Components of Debt Subject to Limit, FY1996-FY2007
(in billions of current dollars and as percentage of GDP)
Debt subject to limit
Held by government
Total accounts Held by the public End of
year limit $ billion % of GDP $ billion % of GDP $ billion % of GDP
1996 $5,500 $5,137.2 65.7% 1,432.4 18.3% 3,704.8 47.4%
1997 5,950 5,327.6 64.2% 1,581.9 19.0% 3,745.8 45.1%
1998 5,950 5,439.4 62.2% 1,742.1 19.9% 3,697.4 42.3%
1999 5,950 5,567.7 60.1% 1,958.2 21.1% 3,609.5 38.9%
2000 5,950 5,591.6 57.0% 2,203.9 22.4% 3,387.7 34.5%
2001 5,950 5,732.8 56.6% 2,436.5 24.1% 3,296.3 32.5%
2002 6,400 6,161.4 58.9% 2,644.2 25.3% 3,517.2 33.6%
2003 7,384 6,737.6 61.4% 2,846.7 25.9% 3,890.8 35.5%
2004 7,384 7,333.4 62.5% 3,056.6 26.0% 4,276.8 36.4%
2005 8,184 7,871.0 64.0% 3,301.0 26.9% 4,570.1 37.2%
2006 8,965 8,420.3 64.2% 3,610.4 27.5% 4,809.8 36.7%
2007 9,815a 9,007.7 65.2% 3,958.4 28.6% 5,049.3 36.5%
Change During $405.2 $854.6 $–449.5
FY1998 - FY2001
Change During $5,327.6 $1,581.9 $3,745.8
FY2002 - FY2007
Source: U.S. Department of the Treasury, Financial Management Service, Treasury Bulletin, June 2001 and
December 2006. Bureau of the Public Debt, Monthly Statement of Public Debt, August 2007. CRS calculations.
Totals may not sum due to rounding.
Note: For the fiscal years 1996 through 2000, the amounts held by government accounts and held by the public
are approximations. In 2001, the Treasury publications began distinguishing holders of debt subject to limit. The
numbers in the table showing this breakdown for FY1996 through FY2000 were calculated by subtracting debts
of the Federal Financing Bank, an arm of the Treasury whose debt is not subject to limit, from total debt held by
government accounts. This calculation approximates the amount of that debt subject to limit. This approximation
overestimates debt by billions of dollars because estimates of unamortized discount are unavailable. This adjusted
amount was then subtracted from total debt subject to limit to produce an approximate measure of debt held by
the public subject to limit. Because the amount held by government accounts is overestimated, the resulting
24 For a short discussion of the Treasury’s previous uses of its short-term ability to avoid breaching the debt limit, see
archived CRS Report 98-805, Public Debt Limit Legislation: A Brief History and Controversies in the 1980s and
1990s, by Philip Winters; for a comprehensive report see U.S. General Accounting Office, Debt Ceiling: Analysis of
Actions During the 1995-1996 Crisis, GAO/AIMD-96-130, August 1996.
measure of debt held by the public subject to limit is underestimated. Nevertheless, these approximations
reported in the table above suffice to show how the two categories have changed over the time.
a. Debt limit increased September 29, 2007, to $9,815 billion.Debt limit increased September 29, 2007, to
Figure 1. Components of Federal Debt As Percentage of GDP,
0 983 986 98 9 99 2 9 95 998 001 004 00 7
Held By Government AccountsHeld by the PublicTotal
Source: OMB, Budget of the United States for FY2008, Historical Tables, February 2007; CBO.
By the middle of May 2002, debt subject to limit had again risen to within $15 million of the 25
statutory limit. At the FY2002 average spending rate, $15 million equaled about five minutes of
federal outlays. The Treasury, for the second time in 2002, used its statutory authority to avoid a
default. The Treasury’s financing problems, however, would persist without an increase in the
debt limit. On May 14, the Treasury asked Congress to raise the debt limit or enact other statutory
changes allowing the Treasury to issue new debt. A Treasury news release stated “absent
extraordinary actions, the government will exceed the statutory debt ceiling no later than May
16,” and that
25 See Table A-1, presented in the Appendix, for details.
a “debt issuance suspension period” will begin no later than May 16 .... [This] allows
the Treasury to suspend or redeem investments in two trust funds, which will provide 26
flexibility to fund the operations of the government during this period.
The Treasury reduced federal debt held by these government accounts by replacing it with non-
interest-bearing, non-debt instruments, which enabled it to issue new debt to meet the
government’s obligations. The Treasury claimed these extraordinary actions would suffice, at the
latest, through June 28, 2002. Without a debt limit increase by that date, the Treasury indicated it
would need to take other actions to avoid breaching the ceiling. By June 21, the Treasury had
postponed a regular securities auction, but took no other actions. With large payments and other
obligations due at the end of June and at the beginning of July, the Treasury stated it would soon
exhaust all options to issue debt and fulfill government obligations, putting the government on the
verge of a default.
During May and June 2002, Congress took steps to increase the debt limit. The FY2002
supplemental appropriations bill (H.R. 4775) passed by the House on May 24 included, after
extended debate, language allowing any eventual House-Senate conference on the legislation to
increase the debt limit. However, the Senate’s supplemental appropriations bill (S. 2551;
incorporated as an amendment to H.R. 4775, June 3, 2002) omitted debt-limit-increasing
language. The Senate leadership expressed strong reluctance to include a debt limit increase in the
supplemental appropriation bill. Instead, on June 11, the Senate adopted a bill (S. 2578), without
debate, to raise the debt limit by $450 billion to $6.4 trillion. At that time, a $450 billion debt
limit increase was thought to provide enough borrowing authority for government operations
through the rest of calendar year 2002, if not through the summer of 2003. With the possibility of
default looming over it, the House passed the $450 billion debt limit increase by a single vote on
June 27. The President signed the bill into law on June 28 (P.L. 107-199, 116 Stat. 734), ending 27
the 2002 debt limit crisis.
On Christmas Eve, 2002, Kenneth Dam, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury sent a letter to
Congress requesting an unspecified increase in the debt limit by late February 2003, signaling 28th
that the $6.4 trillion debt limit would then be reached. The 108 Congress, still in the process of
organizing itself, did not immediately respond. Through the winter and into the spring, the
Treasury repeatedly requested that the debt limit be raised to avoid serious financial problems. By
February 20, 2003, the Treasury, as in 2002, used legislatively mandated measures to manage
debt holdings of certain government accounts to avoid reaching the debt limit. These actions
included the replacement of internally held government debt with non-debt instruments in certain
government accounts and not issuing new debt to these accounts. These actions allowed the
Treasury to issue additional debt to the public to acquire the cash needed to pay for the
government’s commitments or to issue new debt to other federal accounts.
26 U.S. Department of the Treasury, Treasury News, Treasury Statement on the Debt Ceiling, May 14, 2002.
27 For additional details, see U.S. General Accounting Office, Debt Ceiling: Analysis of Actions During the 2002 Debt
Issuance Suspension Period, GAO-03-134, December 2002.
28 Kenneth Dam, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, letter to Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, December 24, 2002,
available at http://www.treas.gov/press/releases/po3718.htm.
Through the rest of February and into May, the Treasury held debt subject to limit $15 million 29
below the debt ceiling. The adoption of the conference report on the FY2004 budget resolution
(H.Con.Res. 95; H.Rept. 108-71) on April 11, 2003, in the House triggered the “Gephardt rule”
(House Rule XXVII) that deems to have passed legislation (in this case, H.J.Res. 51) raising the
debt limit to accommodate the spending and revenue levels approved in the adopted budget 30
The Senate received the debt-limit legislation on April 11, but did not act until May 23, after
receiving further Treasury warnings of imminent default. On that day, debt subject to limit was
$25 million (or 0.0004%) below the existing $6.4 trillion limit. The Senate adopted the
legislation, after rejecting eight amendments and sent it to the President, who signed it on May
In January 2004, CBO estimated that the debt limit, then set at $7.384 trillion, would be reached 31
the following summer. In June 2004, the Treasury asked Congress to raise the debt limit in order 32
to avoid the disruptions to government finances experienced in the previous two years. In
August, and again in September, the Treasury declared that the debt limit would be reached in the
first half of October. On October 14, debt subject to limit reached $7,383.975 billion, just $25
million below the existing limit. The Treasury employed methods used in the previous two years
to keep debt under the legal limit. On October 14, Secretary of the Treasury John Snow informed
Congress, just before the election season break, that available measures to avoid breaching the 33
debt limit would be exhausted by mid-November. Without an increase in the debt limit, the
Treasury would be unable to meet all of the government’s existing obligations, and the 34
government could default.
Although the House passed a budget resolution for FY2005 in the spring of 2004, it did not reach
final agreement with the Senate on the measure. Without a budget resolution passed by Congress,
no resolution to raise the debt limit could be deemed passed by the House automatically under the
Gephardt rule. Consequently, no measure was available to send to the Senate. As the debt
approached the limit through the summer and into the fall, no legislation was moved to raise the
29 The Treasury reduced the amount of debt held by selected federal accounts while it sold an equal (or smaller) amount
of debt to the public. This raised cash needed to pay for ongoing obligations and kept the debt below the limit.
30 The House Budget Committee has some discretion in setting the debt limit level in the House Joint resolution
generated by the Gephardt rule. SeeCRS Report 98-453, Debt-Limit Legislation in the Congressional Budget Process,
by Bill Heniff Jr.; and CRS Report RL31913, Developing Debt-Limit Legislation: The House's "Gephardt Rule", by
Bill Heniff Jr.
31 U.S. Congress, Congressional Budget Office, The Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2005 to 2014,
32 Alan Fram, “Congress May Duck Debt Limit Raise,” Oakland Tribune, June 5, 2004.
33 John W. Snow, Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, October 14, 2004,
available at http://www.treas.gov/press/releases/reports/frist.pdf.
34 Although not all the possible consequences of a government default are known, it would mean that the government
could no longer meet all of its legal obligations. Not only the default, but the efforts to resolve it would arguably have
negative repercussions on both domestic and international financial markets and economies.
Earlier, in September 2004, the House had added an amendment to the FY2005 Transportation-
Treasury appropriations (H.R. 5025) in an effort to remove the Treasury’s flexibility in financing
the government as federal debt approached and reached the existing limit. Without that flexibility,
the government would be unable to meet its financial obligations as the amount of debt neared the
limit. The legislation cleared the House, but the Senate did not act on it.
After the elections, Senator Frist, on November 16, 2004, introduced legislation (S. 2986) to raise
the debt by $800 billion, from $7,384 billion to $8,184 billion. The Senate approved the increase
on November 17, 2004. The House considered and approved the increase on November 18. The
President signed the legislation into law (P.L. 108-415, 118 Stat. 2337) on November 19, 2004.
Estimates made at that time anticipated the new limit would be reached between August and
Shortly before the increase in the debt limit, the Treasury delayed a debt auction and informed
Congress that it would invoke a “debt limit suspension period” as it had in previous years. The
increase in the debt limit in mid-November allowed the Treasury to reschedule the debt auction
and cancel, before it began, the “debt limit suspension period.”
Debt limit increases in 2005, 2006, and 2007 took a less dramatic path than those in President
Bush’s first term. In 2005, Congress included three reconciliation instructions in the FY2006 th
budget resolution (H.Con.Res. 95, 109 Congress; April 28, 2005), the third of which directed the
House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committee to report bills raising
the debt limit. The instructions specified a $781 billion debt limit increase, to $8,965 billion, with
a reporting date of no later than September 30, 2005. Neither committee reported a bill to raise
the debt limit.
The adoption of the conference report on the FY2006 budget resolution in late April 2005 also
triggered the Gephardt rule (House Rule XXVII), producing a House Joint Resolution (H.J.Res.
47) that also would raise the debt limit by $781 billion to $8.965 trillion. Under the rule, the
resolution was automatically deemed passed by the House and sent to the Senate. Through the th
end of the first session of the 109 Congress, the Senate had not considered H.J.Res. 47, nor had
Congress considered a reconciliation bill raising the debt limit as called for in the budget
At the end of December 2005, Secretary of the Treasury Snow wrote Congress that the debt limit
would probably be reached in mid-February 2006, although the Treasury could take actions that
maintain the debt below its limit until mid-March. He therefore requested an increase in the debt 35
limit. In two more letters, sent on February 19 and March 6, Secretary Snow advised Congress
that the Treasury was taking measures within its legal discretion to avoid reaching the limit and
that these measures would suffice only until the middle of March 2006. Secretary Snow
authorized actions used previously by the Treasury, including declaring a debt issuance
suspension period. As March began, the government was again close to becoming unable to meet
its obligations. During the week of March 13 the Senate took up H.J.Res. 47. On March 16, the
35 John W. Snow, Secretary of the Treasury, letter to Senator Max Baucus, December 29, 2005, available at
Senate passed a debt limit increase after rejecting several amendments. The President’s signature
on March 20, 2006, then raised the debt limit (P.L. 109-182) to $8.965 trillion.
In mid-May 2007, Congress passed the conference report (H.Rept. 110-153) on the FY2008
budget resolution. The House’s Gephardt rule, triggered by the adoption of the conference report
on the budget resolution, resulted in the automatic engrossment of a joint resolution (in this case, th
H.J.Res. 43, 110 Congress) raising the debt limit by $850 billion to $9,815 billion, and sending
it to the Senate. At the end of July 2007, the Treasury asked Congress to raise the debt limit,
stating the limit would be reached in early October 2007. In August, the CBO Director said that
projections suggested that the limit would be reached in late October or early November. Without
an increase, the Treasury indicated that it would take steps within its legal authority to avoid
exceeding the debt limit. The Senate Finance Committee approved the House resolution (H.J.Res.
43) without changes on September 12, 2007. The Senate then passed the measure on September
A serious economic slowdown, which started in the last quarter of 2007 according to many
economic forecasters, has led to sharply higher estimates of federal deficit spending in FY2008
and FY2009. The slowdown began with a rapid deceleration of housing prices and a rise in
interest rate spreads between private lending rates and benchmark Federal Reserve rates,
indicating an increasing reluctance of major financial institutions to lend to each other as well as
to firms and individuals. The effects of this slowdown will depend in large part whether market
difficulties remain concentrated in the housing and financial sector, or whether the downturn
spreads more widely through the economy.
An economic recession affects the federal deficit in several ways. First, falling prices of many
assets and equities can sharply reduce federal revenues from capital gains taxes and from the
corporate tax. Second, more difficult economic conditions may reduce tax revenues on earned
income and other income sources. Third, “automatic stabilizers” such as unemployment insurance
and income support programs pay out more money as unemployment rises and the number of
households eligible for means-tested benefits rises. An increase in deficit spending provides a
fiscal stimulus to the economy, if the output levels of goods and services produced in the nation
are below their potential levels. Deficit spending, however, can help accelerate inflation if output
levels are near or at potential levels, and in addition, exacerbates long-term fiscal challenges.
Several economists have expressed concerns that inflation, which had been relatively low since
the early 1980s, could accelerate due to rising prices of food, energy, and primary commodities.
While inflation would reduce the market value of the federal deficit, it would require Treasury to
pay higher nominal interest rates on federal debt.
In a March 2008 report, CBO estimated the President’s budget would lead to a $396 billion 36
deficit in FY2008 and a $342 billion deficit in FY2009. Some private forecasters have predicted 37
that the FY2008 deficit could reach $500 billion or more. At that rate, a higher federal debt limit
could soon become necessary. The House Concurrent Resolution on the Budget (H.Con.Res. 312)
recommended policies that would result in a $10.200 trillion debt in FY2009. The Senate
Concurrent Resolution on the Budget (S.Con.Res. 70) recommended policies that would result in 38
a total debt of $10.278 trillion in FY2009. Implementing either set of policies would require an
increase in the federal debt limit. The conference agreement (H.Rept. 110-659) also recommends
spending levels that would lead to a debt subject to limit of $10.207 trillion in FY2009, a level
that would require an increase in the statutory debt limit.
The budget conference report passed the Senate on a 48-45 vote on June 4, 2008. The House
passed the measure on the next day by a 214-210 vote. The conference report recommends
spending levels that would lead to debt levels that would require an increased debt limit in
FY2009. House passage of the FY2009 budget resolution automatically created and deemed
passed legislation (H.J.Res. 92) that would increase the debt limit from its current level of $9.815
trillion to $10.615 trillion. The House passed an amended version of the Housing and Economic
Recovery Act of 2008 (H.R. 3221) by a vote of 272-152 that included a debt limit increase to
$10.615 trillion on July 23, 2008. The Senate then passed the measure on July 26 on a 72-13 vote.
The President signed the bill on July 30 (P.L. 110-289).
Concern over volatile conditions in financial markets may have put the debt limit increase on a
legislative fast track and tamped down debates over debt policy that accompanied previous debt
ceiling increases. On July 13, the U.S. Treasury announced that it would seek authority to support 39
government-sponsored mortgage guarantee agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In early
July, financial markets reacted strongly to some analysts’ reports highlighting possible financial
vulnerabilities of the two guarantee agencies, prompting the U.S. Treasury to take action and 40
design a series of measures to restore confidence in the agencies’ finances. Those measures
were incorporated into the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. In particular, the act
contains provisions that would temporarily authorize the Secretary of Treasury to extend a line of
credit to mortgage guarantee agencies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The act also created the a
new independent agency called the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which replaced the
Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight
(OFHEO) and the Federal Housing Finance Board (FHFB).
36 U.S. Congress, Congressional Budget O
36 Goldman Sachs U.S. Research, “US Dailyffice, Analysis of the President’s Budgetary Proposals for FY2009, March
37 Goldman Sachs U.S. Research, “US Daily: The Fiscal 2008 Deficit—Likely to Top $500 Billion,” March 25, 2008.
38 U.S. Congress, House Committee on the Budget, Report to Accompany H. Con. Res. 312, 110th Cong., 2nd sess.,
H.Rept. 110-543, March 2008, p. 99; U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on the Budget, Report to Accompany S. Res.
70, S.Prt. 110-039, March 2008.
39 Freddie Mac is officially the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation. Fannie Mae is officially the Federal
National Mortgage Association.
40 John Cranford, “Dimensions of a Mortgage Crisis,” CQ Weekly, July 21, 2008, p. 1970; Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and
Christopher Twarowski, “Fannie, Freddie On a Tightrope: Mortgage Giants Navigate Market Volatility, Unique Role,”
Washington Post, July 29, 2008, p. D01.
While CBO indicated that it was more likely than not that such intervention would not be needed, 41
it also estimated a 5% chance of a cost to taxpayers of more than $100 billion. Because debt
subject to limit was just $339 billion less than the debt ceiling of $9,815 billion when the Senate
passed H.R. 3221, some financial market participants may have worried that the debt limit,
without an increase, might have hindered the Treasury Secretary’s ability to intervene to support
Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. On September 7, 2008, the FHFA placed Fannie Mae and Freddie
Mac in conservatorship, providing FHFA with the full powers to control the assets and operations
of the firms.
Since the deprivatization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the decision of the investment bank
Lehman Brothers to file for bankruptcy, the federal government has acted to provide stability to 42
financial markets and has considered even more sweeping measures. On Saturday, September
20, 2008, the U.S. Treasury submitted a proposal to Congress to authorize the Treasury Secretary
to buy mortgage-related assets in order to stabilize financial markets. The Treasury proposal
would allow Treasury holdings of mortgage-related securities up to $700 billion and would raise 43
the debt limit to $11,315 billion. The House introduced the Emergency Economic Stabilization
Act of 2008 (H.R. 3997), which incorporated the main tenets of the Treasury proposal including 44
raising the debt limit to $11,315 billion. On September 29, 2008, however, the House rejected
this measure. On October 1, 2008, the Senate voted on, and passed, a different version of the
Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (H.R. 1424) that included the same debt limit 45
increase. The House passed H.R. 1424 on October 3, 2008 and it was signed into law by the
President (P.L. 110-343) on the same day, raising the debt limit to $11,315 billion.
The size of the debt may remain a concern in the future due to the size of impending federal
deficits necessitating further increases in the debt limit. CBO warns that the current trajectory of
federal borrowing is unsustainable and could lead to slower economic growth in the long run as
debt rises as a percentage of GDP.
Recently released reports, from both CBO and the Administration, estimate budget deficits will
be larger than had been expected. In their September 2008 report, CBO updated their previous
estimate on the FY2008 budget deficit. The new estimate, $407 billion, represented an increase of
$11 billion from their original estimate released in March. In addition, the agency warned that 46
deficits may exceed $400 billion through FY2010. These figures exclude the cost of enacted and
41 Congressional Budget Office, Cost Estimate for H.R. 3221 “Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008” As
passed by the Senate on July 11, 2008, with an amendment transmitted to CBO on July 22, 2008, July 24, 2008,
available at http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/95xx/doc9597/hr3221.pdf.
42 For additional information see CRS Report RS22956, The Cost of Government Financial Interventions, Past and
Present, by Baird Webel, Marc Labonte, and N. Eric Weiss.
43 U.S. Department of Treasury, “Fact Sheet: Proposed Treasury Authority to Purchase Troubled Assets,” Press release
hp-1150, Sept. 20, 2008, available at http://www.treas.gov/press/releases/hp1150.htm.
44 U.S. Congress, House Financial Services Committee, Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (Amendment
to the Senate Amendment to H.R. 3997), available at http://www.house.gov/apps/list/press/financialsvcs_dem/
45 U.S. Congress, Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of
2008 (In the Nature of a Substitute to H.R. 1424), available at http://banking.senate.gov/public/_files/
46 U.S. Congress, Congressional Budget Office, The Budget and Economic Outlook: An Update, Sept. 2008.
proposed federal financial assistance programs and annual tax extenders currently under
consideration, including the alternative minimum tax patch, which would likely increase deficits
over this period.
The Administration, in its July 2008 Mid-Session Review, estimated a FY2009 deficit of $482 47
billion, an increase of $75 billion from their February estimate. The Administration’s FY2009
estimate excludes some costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cost of the Housing and
Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-289), which became law on July 30, 2008, and the
Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 (H.R. 6331, P.L. 110-275), which
became law on July 15, 2008. Additionally, some military analysts believe that the Pentagon will
request as much as $100 billion or more in early 2009 to replace damaged, destroyed, and 48
depreciated equipment and to fund war costs for the last few months of FY2009.
The Administration projects declines in the deficit beginning in FY2010, in part because of the
assumption of a prompt recovery from the economic slowdown of 2008, with economic growth
rates sharply higher than those estimated by most private forecasters. To the extent that actual
growth rates are less than the Administration’s projections, future deficits may be higher than
Since the late 1950s, the federal government increased its borrowing from the public in all years,
except in FY1969 following imposition of a war surcharge and in the period FY1997-FY2001.
The persistence of federal budget deficits has required the government to issue more and more 49
debt to the public. The accumulation of Social Security and other trust funds, particularly after
growth in government-held debt subject to limit. The growth in federal debt held by the public
and in intergovernmental accounts, such as trust funds, has periodically obliged Congress to raise
the debt limit.
Between August 1997, when the debt limit was raised to $5,950 billion, and the beginning of
FY2002 in October 2001, federal budget surpluses reduced debt held by the public. From the end
of FY2001, the last fiscal year with a surplus, until the end of FY2007, debt held by the public
grew by $1,729 billion. Federal debt held in intergovernmental accounts has grown steadily
throughout the period, rising by $1,508 billion since the beginning of FY2002.
In early 2001, the 10-year budget forecasts projected large and growing surpluses, indicating
rapid reduction in debt held by the public. Some experts expressed concern about consequences 51
of retiring all federal debt held by the public. Most long-term forecasts computed at that time,
47 Office of Management and Budget, Mid-Session Review, July 2008, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/
48CRS Report RS22926, Costs of Major U.S. Wars, by Stephen Daggett.
49 The ability to run fiscal deficits gives the federal government useful flexibility in managing its finances, although
large deficits may harm economic performance. See CRS Report RL33657, Running Deficits: Positives and Pitfalls, by
D. Andrew Austin.
50 Report of the National Commission on Social Security Reform, January 1983, available at http://www.ssa.gov/
51 Testimony of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, in U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on the Budget,
however, showed large deficits emerging once the baby boomers began to retire. Short-term
forecasts projected continuous growth in debt held by government accounts, largely due to the
difference between Social Security tax revenues and benefit payments. The combination of falling
levels of publicly held debt and rising levels of debt held by government accounts moderated the
expected growth of total debt. The moderate growth in total debt those projections had forecast
was expected to postpone the need to increase the debt limit until late into the decade, when
accumulating debt in government accounts would overtake reductions in debt held by the public.
New budget projections released in early 2002 smashed expectations of large, persistent
surpluses, and hopes for reductions in debt held by the public collapsed. The return to large
federal deficits accelerated the growth of total debt. Increases in the debt limit would be necessary
much sooner than previously expected.
Early in 2003, the FY2003 deficit and the persistent rise in debt held by government accounts
drove the federal debt up to the $6.4 trillion limit in effect at the time. The Treasury avoided
breaching the limit into May. Congress adopted a debt limit increase of $934 billion on May 23,
2003, that provided enough room for the growing federal debt through the fall of 2004. The debt
limit increase passed by Congress late in 2004 was expected, at the time, to accommodate the
government’s debt growth well into 2005, if not into early 2006. In late December 2005, and
early in 2006, the Treasury informed Congress that the limit would be reached between mid-
February and mid-March 2006. On March 16, 2006, the Senate passed the House-initiated debt
limit increase, raising the debt limit to $8,965 billion. The debt limit crisis was resolved when the
President signed the debt limit increase on March 20.
Smaller than expected deficits in FY2006 and FY2007 postponed, but did not end the need for a
new, higher debt limit. The House passed legislation in May 2007 (H.J.Res. 43) to raise the debt
limit. The Senate passed the measure (P.L. 110-91) on September 27, which the President signed
on September 29. Turmoil in some financial markets in August 2007, according to some
observers, appeared to constrain contention over the debt limit increase.
The 2008 economic slowdown, which will reduce federal tax revenues and increase some federal
outlays, has caused forecasts of federal deficit spending to rise, thus bringing forward the
projected date when federal debt reaches its current limit. The House and Senate budget
resolutions (H.Con.Res. 312, S.Con.Res. 70), as well as the conference agreement (H.Rept. 110-
659), recommend spending levels that would require an increased debt limit. The House passage
of the budget conference report on June 5, 2008, under the terms of the Gephardt amendment, th
caused the automatic engrossment of a joint resolution (H.J.Res. 92, 110 Congress) that would
raise the debt limit by $800 billion to $10,615 billion. The measure was also then sent to the
Senate. The House passed an amended version of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of
2008 (H.R. 3221) that included a debt limit increase to $10.615 trillion on July 23, 2008. The
Senate passed the measure on July 26, and the President signed it on July 30.
While passage of H.R. 3221 provides sufficient borrowing capacity for the FY2009 congressional
budgeting process and enables the Secretary of Treasury to intervene aggressively in support of
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac if need be, the debt limit issue will likely return in the near future
Outlook for the Federal Budget and Implications for Fiscal Policy, hearings, 107th Cong., 1st sess., January 25, 2001,
available at http://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/testimony/2001/20010125/default.htm.
due to a deteriorating fiscal situation in FY2008 and FY2009, in large part linked to turmoil in
financial markets, rising energy and commodity prices, and slowing economic growth rates. The
proposals currently under consideration, which contain further federal assistance for the financial
markets, also include provisions for another increase in the debt limit.
Over the next decade, without major changes in federal policies, persistent and possibly growing
deficits, along with the ongoing growth in the debt holdings of government accounts, would
increase substantially the amount of federal debt subject to limit. Unless federal policies change,
Congress would repeatedly face demands to raise the debt limit to accommodate the growing
federal debt in order to provide the government with the means to meet its financial obligations.
Drishnakumar, Anita S., “In Defense of the Debt Limit Statute,” Harvard Journal on Legislation,
vol. 42, 2005, pp. 135-185.
Gordon, John Steele, Hamilton’s Blessing: the Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National
Debt, New York: Penguin, 1998.
Hormats, Robert D., The Price of Liberty: Paying for America’s Wars from the Revolution to the
War on Terror, New York: Times Books, 2007.
Noll, Franklin, “The United States Public Debt, 1861 to 1975,” EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by
Robert Whaples, May 26, 2004. Available at http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/noll.publicdebt.
Wright, Robert E., One Nation Under Debt: Hamilton, Jefferson, and the History of What We
Owe, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008.
Table A-1, below, provides data on the dollar amount, in current dollars, of federal debt and the
changes in these amounts by month between the end of September 2001 (the end of FY2001) and
the end of August 2008. The table shows outstanding monthly balances of total federal debt, debt
held by government accounts, and debt held by the public. The final row shows the change for
each category for the entire period, September 2001 to August 2008.
All three measures of debt subject to limit increased over this period. From the end of September
2001 (the end of FY2001) to the end of September 2007 (the most recently completed fiscal
year), total federal debt increased by $3,275 billion, debt held in government accounts increased
by $1,522 billion, and debt held by the public increased by $1,753 billion. All three measures
experienced periodic reductions in some months. Because federal receipts and outlays are spread
unevenly over the fiscal year, debt may rise or fall in a given month, even if debt measures follow
an overall increasing trend.
Table A-1.Components of Debt Subject to Limit by Month,
September 2001-August 2008
(in millions of current dollars)
Change Change Change
from Held by from from
End of previous government previous Held by the previous
month Total period accounts period public period
Sept. 2001 $5,732,802 — $2,436,521 — $3,296,281 —
Oct. 2001 5,744,523 $11,721 2,451,815 $15,294 3,292,709 $–3,572
Nov. 2001 5,816,823 72,300 2,469,647 17,832 3,347,176 54,467
Dec. 2001 5,871,413 54,590 2,516,012 46,365 3,355,401 8,225
Jan. 2002 5,865,892 –5,521 2,525,755 9,743 3,340,138 –15,263
Feb. 2002 5,933,154 67,262 2,528,494 2,739 3,404,659 64,521
Mar. 2002 5,935,108 1,954 2,528,318 –176 3,406,789 2,130
Mar. 2002 5,914,816 –20,292 2,549,438 21,120 3,365,378 –41,411
May 2002 5,949,975 35,159 2,553,350 3,912 3,396,625 31,247
June 2002 6,058,313 108,338 2,630,646 77,296 3,427,667 31,042
July 2002 6,092,050 33,737 2,627,980 –2,666 3,464,070 36,403
Aug. 2002 6,142,835 50,785 2,620,946 –7,034 3,521,890 57,820
Sept. 2002 6,161,431 18,596 2,644,244 23,298 3,517,187 –4,703
Oct. 2002 6,231,284 69,853 2,680,812 36,568 3,550,472 33,285
Nov. 2002 6,294,480 63,196 2,680,788 –24 3,613,692 63,220
Dec. 2002 6,359,412 64,932 2,745,787 64,999 3,613,625 –67
Jan. 2003 6,355,812 –3,600 2,753,301 7,514 3,602,511 –11,114
Feb. 2003 6,399,975 44,163 2,750,471 –2,830 3,649,504 46,993
Change Change Change
from Held by from from
End of previous government previous Held by the previous
month Total period accounts period public period
Mar. 2003 6,399,975 0 2,722,812 –27,659 3,677,163 27,659
Apr. 2003 6,399,975 0 2,731,042 8,230 3,668,933 –8,230
May 2003 6,498,658 98,683 2,755,895 24,853 3,742,763 73,830
June 2003 6,625,519 126,861 2,842,361 86,466 3,783,158 40,395
July 2003 6,704,814 79,295 2,835,566 –6,795 3,869,247 86,089
Aug. 2003 6,743,775 38,961 2,829,387 –6,179 3,914,388 45,141
Sept. 2003 6,737,553 –6,222 2,846,730 17,343 3,890,823 –23,565
Oct. 2003 6,826,668 89,115 2,869,493 22,763 3,957,175 66,352
Nov. 2003 6,879,626 52,958 2,879,117 9,624 4,000,509 43,334
Dec. 2003 6,952,893 73,267 2,940,736 61,619 4,012,157 11,648
Jan. 2004 6,966,851 13,958 2,951,219 10,483 4,015,633 3,476
Feb. 2004 7,049,163 82,312 2,953,123 1,904 4,096,040 80,407
Mar. 2004 7,088,648 39,485 2,941,195 –11,928 4,147,453 51,413
Apr. 2004 7,089,700 1,052 2,960,151 18,956 4,129,549 –17,904
May 2004 7,151,523 61,823 2,973,869 13,718 4,177,653 48,104
June 2004 7,229,320 77,797 3,039,987 66,118 4,189,334 11,681
July 2004 7,271,328 42,008 3,033,396 –6,591 4,237,933 48,599
Aug. 2004 7,305,531 34,203 3,037,149 3,753 4,268,382 30,449
Sept. 2004 7,333,350 27,819 3,056,590 19,441 4,276,760 8,378
Oct. 2004 7,383,975 50,625 3,096,207 39,617 4,287,768 11,008
Nov. 2004 7,464,740 80,765 3,087,834 –8,373 4,376,906 89,138
Dec. 2004 7,535,644 70,904 3,158,531 70,697 4,377,114 208
Jan. 2005 7,567,702 32,058 3,171,089 12,558 4,396,615 19,501
Feb. 2005 7,652,726 85,024 3,176,406 5,317 4,476,320 79,705
Mar. 2005 7,715,503 62,777 3,175,460 -946 4,540,042 63,722
Apr. 2005 7,704,041 –11,462 3,185,364 9,904 4,518,677 –21,365
May 2005 7,717,574 13,533 3,207,232 21,868 4,510,342 –8,335
June 2005 7,778,128 60,554 3,280,914 73,682 4,497,214 –13,128
July 2005 7,829,029 50,901 3,278,725 –2,189 4,550,304 53,090
Aug. 2005 7,868,395 39,366 3,284,696 5,971 4,583,699 33,395
Sept. 2005 7,871,040 2,645 3,300,969 16,273 4,570,071 –13,628
Oct. 2005 7,964,782 93,742 3,345,589 44,620 4,619,193 49,122
Nov. 2005 8,028,918 64,136 3,351,093 5,504 4,677,826 58,633
Dec. 2005 8,107,019 78,101 3,424,304 73,211 4,682,715 4,889
Jan. 2006 8,132,290 25,271 3,442,543 18,239 4,689,747 7,032
Change Change Change
from Held by from from
End of previous government previous Held by the previous
month Total period accounts period public period
Feb. 2006 8,183,975 51,685 3,457,409 14,866 4,726,567 36,820
Mar. 2006 8,281,451 97,476 3,443,602 –13,807 4,837,849 111,282
Apr. 2006 8,262,718 –18,733 3,479,623 36,021 4,783,095 –54,754
May 2006 8,263,812 1,094 3,492,648 13,025 4,771,165 –11,930
June 2006 8,330,646 66,834 3,566,186 73,538 4,764,460 –6,705
July 2006 8,352,614 21,968 3,569,550 3,364 4,783,064 18,604
Aug. 2006 8,423,321 70,707 3,576,166 6,616 4,847,155 64,091
Sept. 2006 8,420,278 –3,043 3,622,378 46,212 4,828,972 –18,183
Oct. 2006 8,498,016 77,738 3,650,241 27,863 4,847,775 18,803
Nov. 2006 8,545,715 47,699 3,649,736 –505 4,895,979 48,204
Dec. 2006 8,592,513 46,798 3,724,450 74,714 4,868,063 –27,916
Jan. 2007 8,619,499 26,986 3,737,894 13,444 4,881,605 13,542
Feb. 2007 8,690,921 71,422 3,744,299 6,405 4,946,622 65,017
Mar. 2007 8,760,735 69,814 3,740,127 –4,172 5,020,608 73,986
Apr. 2007 8,753,070 –7,665 3,778,255 38,128 4,974,815 –45,793
May 2007 8,740,892 –12,178 3,792,201 13,946 4,948,691 –26,124
June 2007 8,779,168 38,276 3,867,819 75,618 4,911,348 –37,343
July 2007 8,845,417 66,249 3,873,239 5,420 4,972,178 60,830
Aug. 2007 8,918,493 73,076 3,854,115 –19,124 5,064,377 92,199
Sept. 2007 8,921,343 2,850 3,903,710 49,595 5,017,633 –46,744
Oct. 2007 8,994,639 73,296 3,958,357 54,647 5,036,281 18,648
Nov. 2007 9,065,827 71,188 3,950,468 –7,889 5,115,358 79,077
Dec. 2007 9,144,715 78,888 4,038,566 88,098 5,106,149 –9,209
Jan. 2008 9,155,842 11,127 4,053,199 14,633 5,102,644 –3,505
Feb. 2008 9,275,683 119,841 4,045,007 –8,192 5,230,676 128,032
Mar. 2008 9,358,135 82,452 4,051,685 6,678 5,306,450 75,774
Apr. 2008 9,298,567 –59,568 4,080,887 29,202 5,217,680 –88,770
May 2008 9,324,137 25,570 4,071,992 –8,895 5,252,144 34,464
June 2008 9,492,006 167,869 4,206,942 134,950 5,285,064 32,920
July 2008 9,585,480 93,474 4,182,098 –24,844 5,403,382 118,318
Aug. 2008 9,645,755 60,275 4,166,655 –15,443 5,479,100 75,718
Change, 3,912,953 1,730,134 2,182,819
Sept. 2001-Aug. 2008
Source: U.S. Treasury, Bureau of the Public Debt, Monthly Statement of the Public Debt, Sept. 2001-Aug. 2008,
TreasuryDirect website; CRS calculations.
D. Andrew Austin Mindy R. Levit
Analyst in Economic Policy Analyst in Public Finance
firstname.lastname@example.org, 7-6552 email@example.com, 7-7792