There is a US national debt limit that congress has to vote to increase explicitly (i.e. they can't just force a bill through, they themselves have to vote specifically to allow the US debt to pass the limit) and congress has voted to increase this limit a number of times during the Bush administration.
I think at least two basic things are needed. People need to start getting pissed off when they do that, and a bill should be passed that creates automatic incremental reductions in the debt limit without explicitly raising it (temporarily, it would still reduce incrementally and require explicit votes on the line to raise it again).
The requirement to vote specifically to increase debt is a good thing, or the debt would just increase automatically with every big spend passed through (e.g. "save Social Security" is an easy argument to win, but "increase all our debt" needs to be made explicitly first).
Those are the basics I see as a start, but I don't blame American leaders as much as the American people. American culture is such that most don't seem to have the foggiest notion of individual fiscal responsibility and if they can't even balance their own revenue versus expenditures it's hard for me to see them caring enough about the national debt to put pressure on their leaders not to increase it.
I'd like to see more changes, for example I'd love to see the national debt be tied to taxes, and if congress votes to increase the debt limit it should require
that they also increase taxes every time. At least the common man in America understands taxes and would have an objection to them even if the common man might not care about debt and the future they care about the paycheck being smaller now. And if they are going to let the leaders increase the debt now
, they should start paying for it now
Otherwise, the people with the upside approve the debt while the people with the downside inherit it.