Trillion-dollar coin politically alluring

Jan. 9, 2013 at 10:07 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- The idea of minting a $1 trillion platinum coin to solve the debt ceiling dilemma was posed to White House spokesman Jay Carney Wednesday, but he wasn't biting.

It's a tantalizing concept: Since there is no apparent restriction on how many or what denomination of platinum coins can be stamped by the federal government, all it would take is for President Obama to have one $1 trillion coin struck and deposited in the treasury. Presto, change-o, no more cash-flow problem and no confrontation with recalcitrant Republican House members. Or so the theory goes.

The idea was broached with Carney, not once, but several times. Relentlessly, really. Dangled out there like a shiny lure for a big fat bass to chomp down on. Only Carney wouldn't even nibble, much less bite. But he also didn't swim away. That was very frustrating for the reporters angling for a big story.

After Carney ruled out the president using the 14th Amendment to circumvent Congress on the debt ceiling, he was asked if the administration has a position on the trillion-dollar coin business.

"The option here is for Congress to do its job and pay its bills -- bills that have already been racked up," Carney said.

The follow-up question was whether the administration believes it has the power to mint a trillion-dollar coin.

"Look, there is no plan B. There is no backup plan," Carney answered. "There is no alternative to Congress raising the debt ceiling. Congress has to pay the bills of the United States. That is an obligation they assigned to themselves."

That apparently came across a little evasive, perhaps leaving a little wiggle room.

"Never be true," he said. "Look, there is no substitute for Congress extending the borrowing authority of the United States."

But maybe the administration believes it's an option?

"The only option is for Congress to do its job," Carney replied.

So would he totally rule it out, the questioner came back, drawing laughter from the room.

Carney allowed "you could speculate about a lot of things" but returned to the administration's position it is Congress that must act, not the president who must mint.

Americans, he said, "don't expect Washington -- and in this case, Congress, and really in this case, one house of Congress -- to do enormous harm to the economy for partisan reasons."

Still, maybe the administration has done a little research on ways to bypass the process? No way Carney was going to fall for that one.

"Well, that's another way of asking questions about amendments and coins and articles," he said. "And, again, there are no plan B's here -- and I know that plan B is kind of a bad phrase these days."

But the White House press corps wasn't quite ready to give up on that magic trillion-dollar coin. Yes or no, Mr. Carney, does the White House rule out the idea of minting trillion-dollar coins as a way of dealing with the debt ceiling?

"I would refer you to Treasury for the specifics of this question," Carney said. "I can tell you that the president does not believe that there is a backup plan or a plan B or an off ramp. The only viable option here is ... that Congress fulfills its responsibility and ensures that the United States of America pay its bills, as it has always paid its bills throughout its history."

That wasn't yes or no.

"Again, I can tell you that there are no backup plans, there are no plan B's. I refer you to the Treasury for ... "

Aha! Is that maybe just a hair's width of an opening?

"I'm just saying I don't have analysis here of every idea that's thrown out. I can tell you that the president ... "

Is somebody in the administration trying to figure this out?

"Again -- not that I know of. But since Treasury, I believe, oversees printing and minting, you might ask Treasury," Carney said.

Bottom line, Carney said, "Congress needs to do its job.

"I have no coins in my pocket."

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