5 recent times Congress voted to suspend or raise the debt ceiling

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The U.S. government is in danger of defaulting on the national debt, an event that could have catastrophic outcomes for the economy.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned in September that the country will reach its borrowing limit by mid-October.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., offered a short term extension to the debt limit after saying earlier this week that Democrats should raise the debt ceiling on their own.

“This will moot Democrats’ excuses about the time crunch they created and give the united Democratic government more than enough time to pass standalone debt limit legislation through reconciliation,” McConnell said in a statement.

Biden Monday called for the Senate to vote on raising the debt limit this week and said he couldn't guarantee the federal government would avoid default.

“I can’t believe that that will be the end result because the consequence is so dire," Biden said Monday.

Congress has voted to modify the debt limit several times within the past decade, according to the Congressional Research Service and the Bipartisan Policy Center. Here are some of the most notable congressional actions on the debt limit.

What is the debt limit?

The U.S. Treasury Department creates and sells securities to fund ongoing federal government operations that cannot be funded by revenues alone. The debt limit — also known as the debt ceiling — is a cap imposed by Congress on the amount of debt the government can have outstanding.

The limit has been set at $28.4 trillion since Aug. 1, according to the White House.

The money borrowed is used to meet existing legal obligations, according to the Treasury Department. Social Security and Medicare benefits, tax refunds, interest on the national debt and military salaries are among the primary obligations.

The U.S. avoids default by a month in 2019

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, which suspended the debt limit for two years, passed in a divided House a month before the Treasury Department may have failed to meet its obligations.

According to the New York Times, most GOP members of Congress voted against the bill, despite former President Donald Trump's endorsement. It passed 284-to-149 with only 65 Republicans joining the Democratic majority.

Debt suspended by one year in 2018

A $400 billion budget deal that included a year-long debt ceiling suspension passed in early 2018 with only a month to spare before the Treasury Department's deadline to Congress.

The suspension lasted until March 2, 2019 and the debt limit was reinstalled at $22 trillion later that month, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

2017 budget deal signed weeks before deadline

In September 2017, Congress passed a $15.25 billion hurricane relief package in the wake of Hurricane Harvey that included a three-month debt limit increase.

Analysts were concerned that a large payment due to the Military Retirement Trust Fund in October of that year could bring about a default, per the Bipartisan Policy Center. The debt limit was reinstated at $20.5 trillion in December 2017.

Threat of default only a day away in 2013

On Oct. 6, 2013, then-President Barack Obama signed a bipartisan deal suspending the debt limit — one day before the Treasury Department's deadline to Congress.

The Continuing Appropriations Act of 2014 passed with heavy Republican opposition in the House and Senate. The Bipartisan Policy Center reports the debt ceiling was suspended until February 2014 and reinstated at $17.2 trillion.

Congress approves 2011 suspension within hours of deadline

An ambitious piece of legislation aimed at deficit reduction also allowed for three consecutive debt ceiling increases, according to The Brookings Institution. It passed only hours before the debt ceiling deadline.

Obama signed the bill on Aug. 2, 2011 after months of negotiations. The legislation introduced the infamous "Supercommittee," another name for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. It also capped funding permitted through annual appropriations process for the next 10 years.

Credit rating firm Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S.’s credit rating from AAA to AA+ for coming so close to defaulting, the first time the country's top-notch rating had ever seen such a cut. The U.S. still held onto top ratings from Moody's and Fitch, the other two major credit rating agencies.

What happens if the federal government defaults on its debt?

Failing to increase the debt limit would have "catastrophic economic consequences," according to the Treasury Department. The government would have to default on its obligations, which has never happened before.

"If Congress refuses to act, America would suffer a catastrophic default. Default would call into in question the full faith and credit of the United States," Yellen said in a statement. "Our country would likely face a financial crisis, causing interest rates to rise quickly and restricting access to credit."

The Treasury Secretary also said Social Security beneficiaries, Child Tax Credit recipients, small business loans and military salaries would be at risk.

"Millions are without sufficient savings to forego an expected check, and for these households and businesses the impact would be devastating,” Yellen added.

Reach out to Chelsey Cox on Twitter at @therealco.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Five recent times Congress voted to suspend or raise the debt ceiling

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