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For such powerful legislation, the language itself if quite simple, and usually amounts to just a couple of lines striking out the old limit and inserting a new figure in its place.

Holding the debt-limit increase hostage to win spending restraints has a long history, including in the mid-1980s, when spending limits — sponsored in part by GOP Sens. Phil Gramm of Texas and Warren Rudman of New Hampshire — were attached to a debt-limit increase.

At that time, the debt limit stood at about $2 trillion total.

Today, the government adds that much debt in a little more than a year, and as of Thursday, the nation’s debt stood at $13.723 trillion. That’s a little less than the nearly $14.3 trillion limit Congress set in February — a level the government is likely to reach in the first half of next year.

Brian Riedl, a budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said that to keep from bumping up against that limit the government would have to bring its budget into balance, an impossible task for Congress, since 40 percent of the budget isn’t funded right now.

Raising the debt limit is such a distasteful vote that the majority party in Congress always struggles to garner the votes — and the minority party, whether Democrats or Republicans, rarely provides any help. That makes next year, when control of Congress will be split, all the more interesting.

It also raises the question of how Mr. Obama will react if Congress attaches deep spending cuts to the debt increase.

“President Obama could look at a debt-limit showdown as being similar to President Clinton’s government shutdown, where the conventional wisdom is that the Democratic president ended up coming out on top,” Mr. Riedl said. But, he added, “it all depends on what’s attached to the bill.”