Debt ceiling 101: eight questions about the latest round

Congress has until the end of February to raise the federal government’s borrowing limit, known as the debt ceiling, or the country risks going into default. How is this time different from the previous rounds of debt ceiling politics? Here’s a guide, plus the context.

2. What is the debt ceiling, and where does it stand now?

The debt ceiling is the legal limit of federal debt that the government can hold, as set by Congress. The government amasses debt both by borrowing from investors in the United States and abroad and by borrowing from itself. Surpluses in the Social Security and Medicare trust funds are two pots of money from which the US government borrows.

When the debt limit is reinstated, it will encompass all federal borrowing to date, which was estimated on Feb. 7 to be $17.3 trillion, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. The BPC calculates that the outer limit for raising the debt ceiling falls sometime between Feb. 28 and March 25, “with high probability for the X date to occur on or before March 14.”

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