Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




C. Lawrence Evans

Committee Members

John B. Gilmour

Paul W. Mapp


Since the 1950s, the need to raise the debt ceiling, the statutory limit to the borrowing authority of the federal government, has created highly contentious votes in Congress. In some cases, full blown debt ceiling crisis has resulted, in which default appeared a distinct possibility. This paper attempts to explain why periodic debt ceiling crises take place. It concludes that debt ceiling crises are the product of increased national debt and more frequent instances of divided government, coupled with heightened levels of partisanship and party polarization in the post-1950 period. These conclusions are supplemented by case studies of three debt ceiling crises: 1985, 1995-1996, and the summer of 2011.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


Thesis is part of Honors ETD pilot project, 2008-2013. Migrated from Dspace in 2016.