The Fallacy of the “Clean” Debt Limit Increase

| Budget & Economy | Gordon Gray
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In the last 20 years, the United States has enacted 17 increases in the debt limit. Of those 17 increase, 3 were stop-gap measures: a temporary increases with a scheduled fall-back in the absence of superseding increase (P.L. 103-12), and two increase that allowed for uninterrupted operations of the Social Security program (P.L. 104-103, P.L. 104-115). Of the remaining 14 “permanent” increases, all but 3 were either passed as part of other legislation or pursuant to a now repealed rule that precluded a vote in the House of Representatives, the so-called “Gephardt Rule.”

These occurred in 2002 (P.L. 107-199), 2004 (P.L. 108-415), and 2009 (P.L. 111-123). It should be noted that the increase in 2009 occurred immediately following the Senate passage of the president’s health law on Christmas Eve, and was the last vote by the Senate in the 1st session of the 111th Congress.

The balance of the debt-limit increases in the last 20 years were included as part of other legislation, such as the Budget Control Act and the Balanced Budget Act.

It should be noted that debt limit increases enacted as part of broader measures also tend to last longer. The duration of pure standalone debt limit increases is far short than that of dent limit increases enacted as part of broader legislative changes. Standalone measures lasted an average of 288 days, about two-thirds the 453-day duration of packaged increases.

Accordingly, President Obama’s demands for a “clean” debt limit increase are largely at odds with 20 years of history.