Publication Date

10-15-2013

Abstract

Total federal debt 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 reduce debt held by the public, while deficits raise it.

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Suggested Citation
Austin, D. A. & Levit, M. R. (2013). The debt limit: History and recent increases. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

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