Congressional Research Service. November 21, 2013.
The need to raise (or lower) the limit during a session of Congress is driven by previous decisions regarding revenues and spending stemming from legislation enacted earlier in the session or in prior years. Nevertheless, the consideration of debt limit legislation often is viewed as an opportunity to reexamine fiscal and budgetary policy. Consequently, House and Senate action on legislation adjusting the debt limit is often complicated, hindered by policy disagreements, and subject to delay.
http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41633.pdf [PDF format, 33 pages].
Congressional Research Service. September 25, 2013.
When federal agencies and programs lack appropriated funding, they experience a funding gap. Under the Antideficiency Act, they must cease operations, except in certain emergency situations or when law authorizes continued activity. Failure of the President and Congress to reach agreement on interim or full-year funding measures occasionally has caused government shutdowns, the longest of which lasted 21 full days, from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996. Government shutdowns have necessitated furloughs of several hundred thousand federal employees, required cessation or reduction of many government activities, and affected numerous sectors of the economy. This report discusses the causes, processes, and effects of federal government shutdowns, including potential issues for Congress.
http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34680.pdf [PDF format, 24 pages]
Congressional Research Service. January 23, 2013.
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. The recent economic slowdown led to sharply higher deficits in recent years, which led to a series of debt limit increases.
http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL31967.pdf [PDF format, 37 pages].
Congressional Research Service. May 31, 2012.
The gross federal debt, which represents the federal government’s total outstanding debt, consists of two types of debt: (1) debt held by the public and (2) debt held in government accounts, also known as intragovernmental debt. Federal government borrowing increases for two primary reasons: (1) budget deficits and (2) investments of any federal government account surpluses in Treasury securities, as required by law. Nearly all of this debt is subject to the statutory limit. The federal debt limit currently stands at $16,394 billion.
http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41633.pdf [PDF format, 26 pages].