No Platinum Coin (Told You So)

January 12, 2013 11:02 a.m.

Some people thought the White House was suggesting they might … might be willing to pursue the Platinum Coin option to resolve a debt default crisis. I didn’t think so. And I think I was right. Today the Treasury released a statement saying that the Treasury and thus the administration and thus President Obama do not believe that the relevant statute “can or should be used to facilitate the production of platinum coins for the purpose of avoiding an increase in the debt limit.”As a narrowly legal matter, it’s not clear to me this is true. Whatever the wisdom of it, the statute really does seem to allow this. But I’m not a lawyer. So I’ll leave that to others.

But two points about the coin concept.

First, I simply don’t think this kind of high-wire act is in Obama’s nature. That’s why I don’t think this was ever a likely course for the White House.

Second, there are big political and politico-economic problems with the Coin idea.

One of the big problems with the debt-ceiling drama is that the vast majority of people don’t understand what’s being discussed. You hear relatively serious people on the news acting as though it’s Obama asking to spend more money or even unlimited money. So you have misunderstandings about what it means, compounded by tendentious misrepresentations and then simple inattention. But, as we’re already seeing on the standard misinformation sites, the second you start talking about the President minting a special trillion dollar quarter, people pop up and say, What the F#*% are you talking about?

In other words, the Platinum coin has the additional magic of making it look like the President is the one doing something reckless and totally crazy rather than Congressional Republicans who are the ones really doing it.

That’s a problem.

Next step: Congressional Republicans force the country into national default and at the last minute the President rescues the country with a Platinum coin. Okay, where are we on day two? The Republicans realize they’re outfoxed and immediately pass a debt limit hike? Really? That doesn’t make sense to me at all.

If anything, it’s removed all the political consequences of their recklessness and puts them on the search for some new point of leverage. But the big point is now we’re out into the wilds of Platinum Coin financing with no clear road back to actual real world financing of the national debt.

Again, that’s a problem.

What makes this a genuine national crisis is that there’s no good way of dealing with this — that’s why it’s bad to have people at war with the state at the center of government. So I totally get the Platinum Coin attraction. But I think what it actually does — or, would do — is allow Republicans to pull their latest destructive stunt without the consequences. It lets them off the hook in the grandest way and protracts, extends and deepens the country’s sojourn into a legal, constitutional and financial no man’s land.

I think this is what the White House means by not negotiating. No way out. The President is saying “we’re not going to play that game anymore.” We’re not going to engage or be co-opted by your attacks on the country.

The problem is you’re dealing with people who simply may not flinch. Who may happily break what generations of Americans have spend centuries — literally centuries — building.

This is where I’m glad I’m not President. Because I don’t know what I would do if and when the Republicans really … like really force the first default in over 230 years of American history. But he’s drawing that line. The Platinum Coin just muddies it.

Masthead Masthead
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