Senate Republicans have thus far refused to raise the debt ceiling, which needs to be raised by October 18 to prevent the US Government from defaulting on the national debt. They have been insisting that Senate Democrats should raise it on their own through the Budget Reconciliation process, which allows budget-related bills to be passed with a simple majority rather than a 60-vote supermajority. But now they seem to have budged; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just issued a statement offering to allow Democrats to pass a short-term debt-ceiling increase through regular order:

We have already made it clear we would assist in expediting the 304 reconciliation process for standalone debt limit legislation. To protect the American people from a near-term Democrat-created crisis, we will also allow Democrats to use normal procedures to pass an emergency debt limit extension at a fixed dollar amount to cover current spending levels into December. This will moot Democrats’ excuses about the time crunch they created and give the unified Democratic government more than enough time to pass standalone debt limit legislation through reconciliation.

My question is, how big a debt ceiling increase is McConnell agreeing to? What dollar amount would be sufficient to cover all federal borrowing, at current spending and taxing levels, into December?

And how does this compare to the dollar amounts by which the debt ceiling has been raised in recent years? I’m aware that it’s often been suspended and then auto-adjusted upwards rather than raised, but I’m talking about the occasions in which it was actually raised by Congress.

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    From your quote: "dollar amount to cover current spending levels into December". What Sen. Maj. Leader Chuck Schumer wants is to the dollar amount to cover budget for future years (typically one to several), importantly including the newly proposed items in the "$1 trillion" and "$3.5 trillion" packages (i.e. divide by 10 for per-annum).
    – Pete W
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 20:11
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    @PeteW Yeah, and I’m asking what that works out to in dollars? How much money does the federal government need to borrow between now and the beginning of December given current spending and taxing levels? Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 20:12
  • No dollar amount attached only the deadline to pay the past bill extended from Oct 18 to sometime in November or December. By then the US would default on the debt(money spent before the deadline) if the bill to raise the ceiling has not passed, not the budget (money appropriate for the future spending).
    – r13
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 22:34

1 Answer 1


According to the deal announced between Schumer and McConnel, the sum is now $480 billion.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Thursday morning that lawmakers have reached a deal on a short-term debt ceiling increase after hours of discussion with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. [...]

The agreement, according to people familiar with the deal, allows the debt limit to increase by $480 billion, a sum the Treasury Department estimates will allow it to pay bills until Dec. 3. The current national debt is about $28.4 trillion and would be permitted to rise to about $28.8 trillion under the deal.

It's difficult to make a numerical comparision with the years right before, becuase the ceiling was merely suspended rather than raised since 2018 (first for one year in 2018, then for two years in 2019). But this (rather low quality) graph may help to some extent:

enter image description here

What appears obvious from the graph is that suspensions (i.e. post-facto raises) have become the norm in the last decade, whereas a decade before the limit was usually raised preemptively to stay above the actual debt.

Anyway, the deficits are expected to be on the order of one trillion per year for the next decade, so on average that's about how much the ceiling should be raised annually, unless resorting to auto-raise suspension tricks. That actually roughly corresponds to what happened now, as the suspension expired at the end of July and they raised the limit by about half a trillion for Aug 1 to Dec 3 (i.e. ~4 months).

Old answer below:

Hard to say precisely, because they are still haggling over the amount. A Hill piece published about 3 hours ago (as I'm writing this) mentioned $300 billion as the Republican offer citing Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).

Interestingly, this seems to match a Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimate issued in March for FY 2021:

Even with exceptionally low interest rates, the federal government is projected to spend just over $300 billion on net interest payments in fiscal year 2021.

As for your other question (in comments), what the Democrats are asking for... at least a week ago (last Thu) Yellen was simply calling for the debt limit to be abolished altogether.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Thursday [9/30] she supports abolishing the federal debt limit, calling it a “very destructive” threat to the full faith and credit of the U.S

In congressional testimony, Yellen argued it made no sense to limit the Treasury's ability to pay bills already approved by Congress and the president with an arbitrary cap on how much debt it can issue.

“When Congress legislates expenditures and puts in place tax policy that determines taxes, those are the crucial decisions Congress is making,” Yellen said during a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee, where she appeared beside Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.

“And, if to finance those spending and tax decisions, it's necessary to issue additional debt, I believe it's very destructive to the president and myself, the Treasury secretary, in the situation where we might be unable to pay the bills that result from those past decisions.”

"It should be bipartisan in recognition of the fact that both Republican administrations and congresses and Democratic ones have run budget deficits for most of the post-[World War II] period with only a few years serving as an exception," Yellen said.

"That requires on a regular basis raising the debt ceiling," she continued. "The need to do so has nothing to do with future spending or tax plans.

I don't know where she stands more recently with respect to what's needed till Dec. If you have the patience, you could watch the 2-hour testimony and see if the issue how much extra debt is needed till Dec was even raised then.

The only other more concrete figure I found she gave was some a $150 billion amount that was due on Oct 1st, but that's already in the past now:

Yellen has called Oct. 1 a critical date for U.S. government cash flows, because of some $150 billion in payments due on the first day of the 2022 fiscal year, including some investments in military pension programs.

  • How does 300 billion dollars compare to the amount of borrowing the federal government needs to do between now and the beginning of December? Commented Oct 7, 2021 at 4:05
  • @KeshavSrinivasan: no idea on that. It's a different Q and we'd have to hear from Yellen, not the Republicans on that. You might as well ask separately what she or the Democrats are asking for. Commented Oct 7, 2021 at 4:07
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    If you can find that out, I’d be happy to accept your answer. By the way, I don’t think that CRFB statistic is relevant in any way. That’s about interest payments for the entirety for fiscal year 2021. Whereas the 300 billion here is, or at least is supposed to be, an estimate of a bigger thing taken over a shorter time horizon: the entirety of net government outlays, whether spent on interest payments or any other kind of spending, for a short two month window. The fact that both happen to equal 300 billion is a coincidence. Commented Oct 7, 2021 at 4:13
  • @KeshavSrinivasan: yes, it might be a pure coincidence. On the other hand, I could see some (Republican) argue that they are covering all the interest payments from past debt, but not accepting new debt (principal)... Commented Oct 7, 2021 at 4:13
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    Sorry, when did I ask for what the Democrats wanted? Commented Oct 7, 2021 at 15:16

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