How the U.S. Debt Ceiling Works

Congress must reach a deal to raise the federal borrowing limit, or debt ceiling, before the government runs out of money to pay its bills by mid-October. The House passed a measure keeping the government funded until early December and suspending its borrowing limit through 2022, but the bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

The debt ceiling came out of the need to accrue more debt during the world wars of the 20th century, prior to which Congress had to specifically approve borrowing for each purpose. Since then, the limit has been raised or modified 98 times, according to the Congressional Research Service. Despite partisan disagreements, Congress and the president have never allowed the U.S. to default on its debt.