Can the Debt Ceiling be Avoided with a Trillion Dollar Coin?

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FILE - In this July 23, 2011 file photo, President Barack Obama meets with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. The struggle to head off a national debt default played out on two tracks, as do most big things in the capital. One was for show. The other was for real. The two tracks finally came together, in the knick of time, on Tuesday, when the Senate granted final passage to legislation raising the debt ceiling, trimming spending and punting the most painful decisions on deficits down the road. President Barack Obama's pen sealed the deal. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

It started as a fringe idea — for some, it was a joke — but it’s gaining traction: the trillion dollar coin, a possible trump card in the debt ceiling negotiations. The U.S. could default on its debt as early as Feb. 15, and, given the Congressional brinkmanship that has surrounded the last few debt ceiling negotiations, not many people are looking forward to this next go-round.

But with the muchdiscussed trillion dollar coin, some insist, that could all be avoided.

Because of a loophole in a bill originally designed to create new, exciting coins for collectors, the U.S. Mint can produce coins worth any amount. In the one trillion dollar coin scenario, Obama would ask Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to mint a trillion dollar coin (or two) and deposit it into the Federal Reserve, giving the government enough money to avoid a default.

Economist Paul Krugman (who will be on Moyers & Company this weekend) endorsed the coin idea yesterday.

Should President Obama be willing to print a $1 trillion platinum coin if Republicans try to force America into default? Yes, absolutely. He will, after all, be faced with a choice between two alternatives: one that’s silly but benign, the other that’s equally silly but both vile and disastrous. The decision should be obvious.

The coin has lead to warring Twitter campaigns: #MintTheCoin and #StopTheCoin. “Pretty much every argument against #MintTheCoin is basically: ‘it sounds crazy.’ Not very powerful,” tweeted Business Insider Deputy Editor Joe Weisenthal. He wrote on Business Insider’s “Money Game” blog that the coin would not lead to runaway inflation, as some might expect.

In an interview with Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent, a former NYPD homicide detective with experience negotiating hostage crises said the president could use the coin as leverage against those who have kidnapped the debt ceiling debate. Sargent summarized his takeaway:

“Obama must have a trump card in his back pocket that will resolve the situation without the GOP’s help, if necessary. One of the most important goals is getting the hostage taker to realize that ultimately, he’s not in control of the situation.”

As for what the coin should look like, Krugman suggested it be minted with the face of speaker of the house, John Boehner: “Because without him and his colleagues, this wouldn’t be necessary.” Boehner has not commented on this suggested honor. But, while discussing the coin proposal with Slate’s Dave Weigel, Boehner’s spokesperson Michael Steel asked, “Wasn’t that the plot of a Simpsons episode?”

Yes, it sort of was.

The coin solution has found some support in Congress, most enthusiastically from Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY).

But not everyone is on board: Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum wrote that the proposal would not survive in court, and Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) has promised to introduce legislation to make the coin impossible.

What do you think about the coin proposal?

Update: Talking Post Memo suggested eight other people besides John Boehner to put on the coin. Who would you choose?

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  • Al Rogat

    Make the coin…

  • From-LA

    George W Bush. Two trillion dollar coins will cover the debt for two unnecessary wars we fought on a credit card.

  • LytaBunny

    I love it if only for the irony. And Boehner is the perfect face, except I think the rule is they have to be dead, first. Hmmmm. ;^) (Just kidding, Mr. Secret Service man. Really!)

  • Robert John MacDonnell

    Mint the coin; meet absurdity from the republicans with absurdity from The People. Put Alfred E. Newman’s face on the coin with the motto: “What? Me Worry?”

  • Patrick Garrison

    Given the multibillion if not multitrillion mark notes at the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany before Hitler, what to speak of the joke the Zimbabwean dollar has become, make the coin – it’s just as inherently worthless as is every other Federal Reserve backed piece of money!

  • Derek

    The coin doesn’t sound any whackier than anything else going on in Congress today. I’m recalling Calvin and Hobbs on one of their break-neck rides in his wagon…….

  • Steve Seuser

    I’m not sure I understand why the federal government doesn’t already use its power to mint coin, while we owe trillions of dollars to the Federal Reserve. Instead our money is creating by private banks making loans to borrowers, for banks’ own profits! If an alien from another planet looked at our monetary system, they’d be astonished they we’d allowed private banks to control our money supply and put the rest of us — our government included — into debt.

  • Woman from Arkansas

    Put the face of a newly homeless woman and her children on that coin. That’s who they’ve stolen the money from. Maybe having to look at that would incite a tiny spark of humanity into one of their dead souls as they frittered the coin about.

    The sad part about putting Boehner on the coin as others have suggested, is that he *would* see it as an honor. Like that old Carly Simon lyric “…I bet you think this song is about you.”

  • rij

    trillion dollar coin should be minted & turned over to the U. S.
    Treasury ASAP, given that the purpose of raising the debt ceiling is to
    pay the debts already incurred by Congress. Then, the recalcitrant
    Republicans in Congress needs to be told to
    get on with the serious business of governing for the nation, instead
    of merely doing the bidding of their financial backers . If minting
    this coin is legal and solves the problem, why the delay?

  • Mark Van Steenwyk

    Don’t you mean two wars we *fight*?

  • Gardengirl

    Minting a coin makes a whole lot more sense than going through another debt ceiling debacle that will send this country reeling down the recession roadway. Boehner’s picture on one side….McConnell’s on the other!

  • Jerry Drawhorn

    Do it, putting Boehner’s face on it (or Reagan’s).

    And then if the GOP agrees to pass an increase in the debt ceiling melt it down.

  • Charla Heibel Meier

    Mint it, pay off the debt, then get rid of the fed and go back to minting their owning debt-free.

  • Deidzoeb

    I’m thinking a Trillion Dollar Coin heist movie would be awesome, but where would you fence it? Nobody would buy it from you for nearly that amount, because everybody would know it was stolen and nobody else would buy it off them. It’s not like China could buy it for $1 billion and then ask the US to make change for their $1Tril coin.

  • Anonymous

    I suggest four faces and four coins, each a trillion dollars; pay the debt off, an, I mean all of it. Then institute a 50% tax on the top 2% elites for the next 1000 years. Include jail for Jamie Dimon and his ilk, buy all mortgage debt for pennies on the dollar and forgive the debt. break up all the banks and make them utilities with no such things as investment banks. And, give up the idea of a one world order. No more offshore accounts to avoid taxes and build a mile wide mote around Washington and fill it with Australian crocks. Lobbyists would have to swim across but only with a piece of raw Angus around his or her neck. Bill Moyers can pick the faces on the coins.

  • Anonymous

    Any money left over could pay for one last act of ” Rendition ” by sending congress minus a chosen few, over to Thailand for a good caning and, don’t leave out the bottoms of their feet.

  • Anonymous

    Man! I would pay a years wages to be ringside when Boehner and Nancy Polosi are getting their feet blistered.

  • beholder

    Once upon a time the Treasury issued currency. That paper currency was fully redeemable for gold. Then in 1913 a consortium of private bankers created the Federal Reserve system, by which instead of the Treasury simply issuing paper against gold it had in the treasury it sold debt obligations in the form of bonds which were bought and sold by the member banks. So at that point our government started to finance its operation via debt not pay as you go. And the dollar has been declining in value ever since. You can mint whatever coins you like. It’s simply a slight of hand. We are trillions in debt, with future obligations in the tens of trillions. And unless we revalue the currency and go back on some sort of fractional gold standard our paper will soon be just that only paper.

  • Kent S.

    I think that if Secretary Tim Geithner could dress up in a clown outfit to save the country and convince everyone how absurd these politics are, he ought to do it. It would.

  • Paul

    Someones been watching too much simpsons

  • Elmer A. Fugman, Jr.

    Start Minting!!!

  • Anonymous

    Hehehehe… Drum says the proposal would not survive in court and Walden promises legislation to make the coin impossible. So uhhh… which is it? If it wouldn’t survive in court, then there isn’t a need to make the coin impossible.

  • MLPD

    The debt is $16 plus Trillion; the annual deficit is over a Trillion. Only 2 coins, of $1 Trillion would take of of 1 year’s deficit.

  • Judith Abrahms

    Richard Nixon.

  • LSK from NYC

    Absolutely mint a coin with Reagan on one side and the rear end of the elephant on the other side. You choose on which side to include “Trust Me”.

  • From San Mateo CA


  • Arianna

    I think the coin should feature George W. Bush/Dick Cheney and the obverse side should have the Haliburton logo.

  • Gizmo51

    I just think this would be a great collectable and worth trillions of dollars in the fuure so I want to know how I can buy a couple.

  • ArchWind

    Andrew Jackson Kills the BANK (History Channel, YouTube)

    Dear Mr. President:

    President Andrew Jackson promoted something that became referred to as “Jacksonian Democracy”. A government run by and dedicated to common men. He set to work to abolishing what were thought to be almost impossible goals. Abolish the Electoral Voting System, Extinguish the National Debt, Eliminate the “Bank of the United States”, a private institution he determined to be corrupt (draw your own parallels) and do away with worthless paper currency. He considered paper money to be basically used to corrupt, by printing all you like and altering the value at will, thus causing inflation. (Which might be considered a form of slavery. Working more and more for less and less).

    President Andrew Jackson had real reservations about the Bank of the United States and believed it was Unconstitutional. And that it gave TOO Much Power over the American Economy to a group of private bankers who would serve Their Own Private Interest rather than the interest of the country as a whole (too big to… whatever, sound familiar). Back then the US Bank controlled the flow of silver and gold upon which State Banks based the value of their paper money. Jackson despised the Bank’s ability to alter its value at will. He considered it a monster that needed to be chained. And it was using much of the moneys to have its own men elected and kept in power to make THEIR Own Laws. Jackson defended the interest of the People and took on the Powerful Commercial and Financial Interest, and he Won Very Handily.

    The Bankers Retaliated with an arrogant boast and threat that a Mere President should not dabbling in the affairs of bankers (They Were In Charge). The bankers openly executed their threat to try and bring the economy of the Unites States to its knees. (And here’s where some kind of similarity exist between Then & Now). “Old Hickory” then ordered the US Treasury to Move its Silver & Gold Reserves from the US Bank into State Banks, thus pulling out the Federal Deposits from the US Bank. This Bold Act singlehandedly undercut the Rogue Powers of the US Bank and Restored Democracy to the People of The United States of America. The great majority the People of America stood with the President then, and they Still Do Today.

    President Andrew Jackson then, was the only American President in history to Pay Off The National Debt. This was the Proudest moment in his Presidency. What Amazing Things could Our Country accomplish today, If Our Nation’s wealth and leadership were not being leached-off by “Special Interest” today? Our Founding Fathers and other Great Men foresaw this happening and spoke definitively about such things to come.

    Are there no longer any Great Men today? Perhaps it is true that “There are no great men, Only Ordinary Men that rise to meet Great Challenges”. It is perhaps best that we use Our Great Democracy while we still have one. Free Speech, Votes and Petitions are ours for this time. Citizens of America, “Sign The Official Petition” NOW at “Petitions dot Whitehouse dot gov” and create a profile. We have a lot of work to do! Petition ends Feb. 2. search Trillion Dollar Coin.

    Mr. President: Mint The Trillion-Dollar Coin. Your Nation Stands With You. As for the Image on the coin. How about “Old Hickory”, the only US President in history to ever thwart our nation’s Kleptocrats. And with a simple but very effective strategy. What are we waiting for?

    Mr. President: Mint The Trillion-Dollar Coin! And put Andrew Jackson’s image on it. They’ll get the message.

    Rod Clifton

  • John
  • Anonymous

    The true cost of the Wars will cost Americans far more than that, when all factors are considered.
    Try 4-6T.

  • JAX88

    I agree that a credible approach that takes away the hostage taker’s advantage should be used to forge a realistic and reasonable resolution.

  • Bryan

    If Obama print $1 trillions coin, he will might get shot by someone from Fed or bankers like they did to JFK