"The Constitution grants Congress the power to borrow money on the credit of the United States--one part of its power of the purse--and thus mandates that Congress exercise control over federal debt. Control of debt policy has at times provided Congress with a means of raising concerns regarding fiscal policies. Debates over federal fiscal policy have been especially animated in recent years. The accumulation of federal debt accelerated in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession. Rising debt levels, along with continued differences in views of fiscal policy, led to a series of contentious debt limit episodes in recent years. [...] On September 6, 2017, an agreement on the debt limit and a continuing resolution was announced between President Trump and congressional leaders. Two days later a measure (P.L. 115-56) was enacted to implement that agreement, which included a suspension of the debt limit through December 8, 2017. Once that suspension lapsed, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin invoked authorities to employ extraordinary measures. One recent estimate suggests those would last until sometime in early March and another indicated the critical date could fall between late February and late March 2018. Secretary Mnuchin reportedly asked some congressional leaders to act on the debt limit before the end of February 2018. Total federal debt increases when the government sells debt to the public to finance budget deficits, which adds to debt held by the public, or 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--which adds to debt held by government accounts; or when new federal loans outpace loan repayments. 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. This report will be updated as events warrant."
CRS Report for Congress, R43389