The big conversation topic over the past week has been about whether or not President Obama should instruct the Treasury to mint a trillion dollar platinum coin, deposit it in the Treasury’s bank account at the Fed and thus avoid a nasty debt ceiling fight with Republicans. Steve Randy Waldman has more technical details on it. It’s an incredibly interesting idea and at first, I was on board, but over the past few days, my mind has changed.
I still believe its legal and would not have any economic impact outside of avoiding a default. It wouldn’t cause massive inflation. And of course the coin doesn’t need to be actually made out of a trillion dollars worth of platinum.
But, I’m skeptical about it for two reasons:
1. Right now, we have two parties in this country: one crazy (Republicans) and one sane (Democrats). Think about what would happen if we actually minted the coin:
Republicans would probably file a lawsuit against the President, claiming its illegal. And then they would spend the next four years making the President’s life as hard as possible. Forget about new gun regulation. Forget about immigration reform. Congress is inept right now, but it can get a lot worse. Mitch McConnell can bring the Senate to a stop. John Boehner can spend the next two years only passing bills to repeal Obamacare. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if House Republicans tried to impeach the President for such a move. The government would grind to a halt. And, we also need to pass a new Continuing Resolution for the federal budget in March so that our government is actually funded. How do you think that would go if Obama mints the coin?
2. It also sends out an image to the rest of the world that America’s government is fundamentally broken. I know – our image is already in the garbage since we’re debating whether we should pay our own debts. Bear with me for a second.
Congress may be incompetent, but the President actually did accomplish a lot in his first term: the ACA, Dodd-Frank Act, ending the war in Iraq, etc. House Republicans can spend all the time they want opposing everything Obama proposes but it doesn’t mean nothing happens. Bills still do pass (even if it’s at the slowest rate ever) and laws are signed. Believe it or not, Congress can actually do a lot less. Other countries, international companies and foreign investors know this. They may also hit the panic button if we mint the coin. Who wants to invest in a country where they need to mint a trillion dollar coin to not default? Who would have any faith that that country could accomplish anything? I’m not sure if the international world would finally lose faith in America, but it’s a risk that I’m unwilling to take.
However, there is a big caveat here. If the option is between going over the debt ceiling and defaulting or minting the coin, I’m on #MintTheCoin’s side. Defaulting is still worse than McConnell and Boehner shutting Congress down. It’s still worse than the international world losing all faith in America’s political institutions.
But right now, there’s a third option: negotiations.
I know the President has said he won’t negotiate over the debt ceiling, but he doesn’t have a choice here. The negotiations aren’t going to be fun. Republicans have the leverage and are going to use it. Some are crazy enough that they actually want us to default. However, Republican leadership understands how horrible that would be. They know they can’t let it happen. They also know that their image is a disaster and the public will largely blame them if we default. They have a number of incentives to negotiate and work towards a deal.
It’s a terrible, horrible standard to set, but we don’t have a choice. Get ready for an ugly couple of months.