With a Trillion Dollar Coin, Obama Can Fight Dumb With Silly

It’s time to mint the trillion dollar coin.

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A trillion dollar platinum coin? Really? Has our politics really reached a point where such an obviously inane idea is gaining traction? Well, yes. When your capitol has become Clowntown, U.S.A., you sometimes need to fight bad ideas with silly ones.

The idea, if you haven't heard, is for President Obama to defuse the forthcoming debt ceiling crisis Republicans are busily manufacturing by directing the Treasury to mint a platinum coin worth $1 trillion. With an extra trillion on the books, the debt ceiling would no longer be an issue. While the Federal Reserve ordinarily is in charge of printing money, there's a law on the books allowing the Treasury secretary to produce platinum coinage of whatever value s/he sees fit.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the fiscal cliff.]

Sure, the purpose of the law was to permit the Treasury to issue commemorative coins. But so what? The purpose of the debt ceiling wasn't to give one party the leverage for a global, economic hostage crisis. Were the debt ceiling not raised, the Washington Post's Ezra Klein writes, "the damage to the economy would be tremendous, and it would occur at every level, from individuals looking for a loan to buy a house to hedge funders trying to play the markets." His full article on what happens if we breach the debt ceiling is worth a read.

So when one political party is acting like a political version of a James Bond villain ("Give in to my demands or I will wreck the world economy!") maybe the answer is for the president to channel his inner Dr. Evil ("One trillion dollars.")

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

Again, it all sounds silly buts some very serious folks are lining up behind it, including the New York Times's Paul Krugman, who has a Nobel Prize lying around his office. New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler is also a fan. And despite some suggestions that none of this is legal because it's not what the law was intended for, Philip Diehl, a former director of the Mint, told Klein that it's perfectly legal.

So is it a silly idea? Yes. But Republican extremists have brought us into an age of political asymmetrical warfare, passing off crazy, dangerous ideas as serious. Why should the president unilaterally disarm on that front?

  • See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.
  • Peter Roff: Trillion Dollar Platinum Coin Trick Doesn't Pass the Laugh Test
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly, an insider's guide to politics and policy.