I’ve decided that it is unfortunate that Lewis Carroll wasn’t born a century or so later than he was. Think of how much more inspiration he could have gleaned for his satirical works from our modern US government than from Victorian England. Consider this conversation between Alice and the Cheshire cat in his “Alice in Wonderland.”
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
This perfectly describes the current situation in Washington. If you don’t believe that the sublime lunacy of our government gets more outrageous by the day, then you haven’t heard about the trillion-dollar coin. As the date when the US Treasury runs out of money grows nearer, and the politicians prepare for a repeat of the 2011 partisan standoff over the debt ceiling, a supposedly legal scheme has been proposed to solve the impasse.
Our government can print new money, but there is a statutory limit to the amount of paper currency that can be in circulation. Ironically, there is no similar limit on the amount of coinage, and a little-known statute gives the secretary of the Treasury authority to issue platinum coins in any denomination. Knowing this, a solution to the debt ceiling becomes very simple. The Treasury Department directs the US mint to create a few platinum coins, deems each one worth 1 trillion dollars, and delivers them to the Federal Reserve. Next, they use the “proceeds” to buy back an equivalent amount of Treasury securities. No more fight over the debt ceiling, since it is now lowered by $trillions of additional government “assets” that have been created. If you think this would be an absurd, reprehensible action by the Obama administration, consider what is now being done by the GOP to counter the potential action. Congressman Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, vows to introduce a bill to “stop the $trillion coin in its tracks.” Walden was quoted saying, “This is Alice in Wonderland looking through the looking glass at debt management.”
It is hard to argue with his statement, but it would be nice to know his motive. It could be either indignation toward a totally asinine scheme or fear of the nullification of impending Republican obstructionism over raising the debt ceiling. I think we all know which is more likely.
Mr. Walden and his peers on both sides of the aisle have run a terrible tab of government debt for the many programs they have voted through. Many also voted against the “pay as you go” rule, which would have blocked any tax cuts without offsetting tax increases or spending cuts. Now, the majority of the House of Representatives have decided that the nation’s debt payment should be optional.
Some of those who allegedly represent the interest of Americans have combined a continuous commitment to spending with an insidious refusal to pay the bills.
The debt ceiling is not about Obama’s credit rating. It is about OURS. It is about things like whether the IRS can send tax refund checks, or if soldiers can be paid. It is about how much more the debt we already have is going to cost us, if we tell the world that we are not a good credit risk. As silly as the trillion-dollar coin sounds, the debt ceiling is far sillier and much more potentially destructive. We still owe the money.
The trillion-dollar coin idea is legal, only because it is not specifically illegal. Creating and using it could be disastrous, but no more than voluntarily defaulting on our self-imposed obligations. If one side can hold the debt ceiling hostage, does the other have a right to employ a “unique” counter-strategy? Could it be that the only thing we have to fear is fear of the trillion-dollar coin itself?
No, our greatest fear should be the continuation of the partisan political gamesmanship and the proliferation of uncompromising politicians that are continually returned to office by we the people. If US political leaders want creditors to keep buying the dollar, shouldn’t these potentially disastrous games of brinkmanship end?
A quick search of available media has not revealed who or what would be the graven image(s) on the coin. It would seem fitting to have Obama and Reid on one side, with Boehner and McConnell on the other. A well-known satirist has suggested the Charmin bears, because “when you pull an idea like this out of your a__, you’re going to need something soft.” He was then asked that since the US debt is 16 trillion dollars; why not mint a $16 trillion coin? He appropriately replied, “That idea is just silly.”
As Alice in Washington might have said, things just keep getting “curiouser and curiouser.”
Jim Surber is the Darke County Engineer and the president of the Darke County Democratic Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.