"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. […] The adoption of the conference report on the FY2008 budget resolution in the spring of 2007 automatically (in the House) created and deemed passed legislation (H.J.Res. 43) raising the debt limit by $850 billion to $9,815 billion. The Senate Finance Committee approved the resolution on September 12, 2007, which was passed by the Senate September 27 and signed by the President September 29. The 2008 economic slowdown has led to sharply higher estimates of deficit spending, raising the prospect of another debt limit increase in the near to medium term. The House and Senate budget resolutions (H.Con.Res. 312 and S.Con.Res. 70) recommend spending levels that would require an increased debt limit in FY2009. This report will be updated as events warrant."
CRS Report for Congress, RL31967