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According to Section (k) of 31 USC § 5112, the United States Secretary of the Treasury "may mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time."
Thus, the idea of the Treasury minting a trillion dollar coin is being floated as a possible resolution to Republican obstructionism in raising our nation’s debt ceiling.
Is this idea crazy? Yes, that’s the point.
As Terry Goodkind, Ayn Rand enthusiast and author of "The Pillars of Creation" put it, “When the whole world is crazy, it doesn't pay to be sane.”
Although in the case of the trillion dollar coin, the insanity might be worth quite a lot, actually.
Republicans happily raised the debt ceiling 18 times when Ronald Reagan was president and 19 times when George W. Bush was president. And, by the way, not one time did they demand spending cuts to go along with the debt increase. Ronald Reagan tripled our national debt. George W. Bush doubled it. Both times, lots of the debt was for military spending and tax cuts that the GOP enthusiastically embraced, price tag and all.
Now suddenly Republicans have converted to the religion of austerity and oppose any and all spending under President Obama. Fine, that’s their prerogative. But turning an ideological soapbox into a threat to ruin our nation’s credit and destabilize our own and the world’s economy? Well, that’s just plain irresponsible and un-American. And nuts.
President Obama, for his part, could respond by altogether ignoring Republican stonewalling and adhering to the Constitutional requirement that our nation honor its debts. According to Section 4 of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution:
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.
That seems pretty straightforward. In fact, constitutional law scholars have argued the legal validity of this approach. And none other than Republican Bruce Barlett, who served under Reagan and George W. Bush, has wholeheartedly endorsed applying the 14th Amendment to circumvent the debt ceiling standoff altogether.
And yet, President Obama quietly applying the literal text of the United States Constitution to avert a massive fiscal crisis lacks a certain flare, don'tcha think? After all, the Republicans in Congress have been so melodramatic in their threats to stall our economy, ruin our credit and potentially cause another recession all because they don’t want to pay for spending Congress has already legitimately incurred. The president could use a response that is equally dramatic and attention getting. And that’s where the coin comes in.
Of course, I worry about our government minting a trillion dollar coin. Among other things, I like the checks and balances in which neither branch of government can take extreme measures without the others’ approval. Also, I worry that on the way to deposit the coin, the Treasury employee carrying it might pass a tempting vending machine…
Still, I appreciate the point of the idea — that Republican threats to bring our government and economy to its knees because of refusals to do raise our debt ceiling now, despite gladly doing so many times before under Republican president, is so insanely reckless and irresponsible that only an equally insane idea might shake us out of this stupid standoff.
So bring on the trillion dollar coin. Many have brainstormed the faces that might grace such a coin. I vote for Bonzo the monkey — the silly creature in the "Bedtime for Bonzo" film that starred none other than Ronald Reagan. It would be a great reminder of how we got a deficit in the first place — and how silly it is that we won’t honor it and agree to pay our bills.