By the numbers: Debt ceiling history

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Congress on Wednesday took its first steps toward raising or suspending debt limits, as the country faces the prospect of defaulting on its obligations in less than two weeks.

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why it matters: While this isn’t the first time Congress has waited until the last minute to tackle a federal debt limit, America has never defaulted. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently said that defaulting would likely trigger a recession.

By numbers: The debt limit was enacted in 1917 for $11.5 billion Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. A debt limit covering nearly all government debt was created in 1939, set at $45 billion.

  • Congress raised the debt limit from $4.37 trillion in the spring of 1993 to $28.4 trillion by August 1, 2012. The latest numbers were based on current debt when the previous suspension ended on July 31.
  • The ceiling has been suspended seven times since February 2013.
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Between the lines: Since the debt limit was set on August 1, Yellen has used his officers as Treasury secretary to take “extraordinary measures” to avoid defaulting on loans — including withholding certain investments.

  • Those efforts are expected to end by October 18.

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