The Reason Foundation did a great article on the debt ceiling.
From 1940 to the beginning of the 1980s, the debt and its limit grew slowly. However, during the 1980s both the debt and…reason.org
The debt ceiling only prevents the Treasury from issuing more debt. It doesn’t prevent us from paying any of our debtors. It just says we don’t have any more credit. Raising the debt limit is like paying off your credit card bill with credit from another credit card. Ever since the 2010 midterms there have attempts to balance the budget, but Democrat Senators have blocked a filibustered such legislation and Barack Obama has promised to veto such legislation.