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5 Presidents Who Raised the Debt Ceiling

Debt Ceiling Increases in Modern History

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Congress has tinkered with the debt ceiling, the statutory limit on amount of money the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its legal obligations, a grand total of 78 times since 1960 - 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic presidents.

See also: Debt Ceiling History

In modern history, Ronald Reagan oversaw the largest number of debt ceiling increases, and George W. Bush approved a near doubling of the borrowing cap during his two terms in office.

Here's a look at the debt ceiling under modern U.S. presidents.

1. Debt Ceiling Under Obama

President Obama Speaks On Energy Efficiency At Mountain View Walmart
Stephen Lam/Stringer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The debt ceiling has been raised on three occasions under President Barack Obama. The debt ceiling was $11.315 trillion when the Democrat was sworn into office in January 2009 and increased by nearly $3 trillion or 26 percent by summer 2011, to $14.294 trillion.

See also: Did Obama Double the National Debt?

Under Obama the debt ceiling increased:

  • by $789 billion to $12.104 trillion in February 2009, Obama's first year in office, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act;
  • by $290 billion to $12.394 trillion ten months later, in December 2009;
  • and by $1.9 trillion to $14.294 trillion two months later, in February 2010.

2. Debt Ceiling Under Bush

President George W. Bush
The White House

The debt ceiling was raised on seven occasions during President George W. Bush's two terms in office, from $5.95 trillion in 2001 to nearly double that, $11.315 trillion, in 2009 - an increase of $5.365 trillion or 90 percent.

Under Bush the debt ceiling increased:

  • by $450 billion to $6.4 trillion in June 2002;
  • by $984 billion to $7.384 trillion 11 months later, in May 2003;
  • by $800 billion to $8.184 trillion 18 months later, in November 2004;
  • by $781 billion to $8.965 trillion 16 months later, in March 2006;
  • by $850 billion to $9.815 trillion 18 months later, in September 2007;
  • by $800 billion to $10.615 trillion 10 months later, in July 2008;
  • and by $700 billion to $11.315 trillion three months later, in October 2008.

3. Debt Ceiling Under Clinton

President Bill Clinton
Getty Images

The debt ceiling was raised on four occasions during President Bill Clinton's two terms, from $4.145 trillion when he took office in 1993 to $5.95 trillion when he left the White House in 2001 - an increase of $1.805 trillion or 44 percent.

See also: National Debt Versus Federal Deficit

Under Clinton the debt ceiling increased:

  • by $225 billion to $4.37 trillion in April 1993;
  • by $530 billion to $4.9 trillion four months later, in August 1993;
  • by $600 billion to $5.5 trillion two years and seven months later, in March 1996;
  • and by $450 billion to $5.95 trillion 17 months later, in August 1997.

4. Debt Ceiling Under Bush

President George H.W. Bush
Bachrach / Getty Images

The debt ceiling was raised on four occasions during President George H.W. Bush's one term, from $2.8 trillion when he took office in 1989 to $4.145 trillion when he left the White House in 1993 - an increase of $1.345 trillion or 48 percent.

Under Bush the debt ceiling increased:

  • by $70 billion to $2.87 trillion in August 1989;
  • by $252.7 billion to $3.1227 trillion three months later, in November 1989;
  • by $107.3 billion to $3.23 trillion 11 months later, in October 1990;
  • and by $915 billion to $4.145 trillion one month later, in November 1990.

5. Debt Ceiling Under Reagan

President Ronald Reagan
Hulton Archive

The debt ceiling was raised on 17 occasions under President Ronald Reagan, nearly tripling from $935.1 billion to $2.8 trillion.

Under Reagan the debt ceiling was raised to:

  • $985 billion in February 1981;
  • $999.8 billion in September 1981;
  • $1.0798 trillion September 1981;
  • $1.1431 trillion in June 1982;
  • $1.2902 trillion in September 1982;
  • $1.389 trillion in May 1993;
  • $1.49 trillion in November 1983;
  • $1.52 trillion in May 1984;
  • $1.573 trillion in July 1984;
  • $1.8238 trillion in October 1984;
  • $1.9038 trillion in November 1985;
  • $2.0787 trillion in December 1985;
  • $2.111 trillion in August 1986;
  • $2.3 trillion in October 1986;
  • $2.32 trillion in July 1987;
  • $2.352 trillion in August 1987;
  • and $2.8 trillion in September 1987.

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