Mint the Trillion-Dollar Platinum Coin, Dark Brandon!
The debt ceiling is a legendarily ridiculous problem. Fortunately, there is a ridiculously legendary solution.
You have to give some credit to the new Republican House majority: The first week of their new reign was hilarious. Between several days of watching Kevin McCarthy get subjected to ritual humiliation and New York Congressman George Santos’s total commitment to ensuring that not a day would pass without fresh “revelations” about his haphazardly constructed lies, this has been a period of peak content. While it may have been possible for Democrats, like Katie Porter, to practice “the subtle art of not giving a fuck” during this period, I’m sorry to say that the time for chortling is over—and the fuckery that the GOP’s House majority has planned will be anything but subtle.
Already there’s been a lot of hot talk about Star Chamber–style investigations and possible impeachments. The House is in session, in chaos, and there’s not much to be done about it until the next election. But there’s one concern that stands out: the likelihood that the GOP will drag the country to the brink of a debt default, and perhaps even push us over the edge. I know, I know: How many times are we going to go through this? The Democrats had a chance to disarm this ticking time bomb during the lame-duck session but chose not to. Now it’s essentially understood that the threat of a debt limit default is back for the duration.
Well, we can live with the constant fear of a GOP-precipitated debt default for the next year if we want, in the hopes that cooler heads will prevail and cobble together some sort of short-term compromise that might tide the global economy over until the next deadline. Or we can do what we should have done a long time ago: have the president command the U.S. Treasury to mint a magic trillion-dollar platinum coin, stash it in the Treasury, and end the danger once and for all.
I know what a lot of dull-witted pundits are going to say about this proposal: You can’t just mint a magic coin, it’s a total gimmick, this is crazy talk. You want to know what’s really crazy? Agreeing to remain the secretary of the treasury during a period of time when the House of Representatives’ primo nutters have made it their cause célèbre to regularly threaten to tank the global economy. But just this week, Bloomberg News reported that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen—who herself has called the platinum coin a “gimmick”—will remain in the role for “the duration.” If she wants to survive, let alone enjoy her tenure, she should tell Joe Biden that she’s ready to mint the coin. Honestly, I’d question the judgment of any treasury secretary who wouldn’t do so, given the sadomasochistic alternative of grimly enduring an escalating series of economic nightmare scenarios.
In politics, conflict and complications are inevitable. Simple solutions are in short supply. And we all have a tendency to overthink things. It was, in fact, “overthinking things” that got us into this mess: During the “Grand Bargain” phase of his presidency, Barack Obama thought it would be a great idea to use the occasion of raising the debt ceiling as a moment to enter into larger negotiations on debt reduction. Obama just threw open Pandora’s box, enabled the GOP’s plunge into debt-limit psychosis, and we’ve been struggling to get unfucked ever since.
It was also, not coincidentally, during Obama’s first term that the idea of minting a trillion-dollar coin—which appears to be an entirely legal cheat code, thanks to a few sentences in a 1996 law—first arose. Now Biden, who had a front-row seat to Obama’s massive cock-up, can end this grievous era of totally overthinking it. By embracing the kind of mentality that Alexander the Great deployed when he was faced with the Gordian knot, or which Indiana Jones turned to when challenged by a scimitar-spinning fool who failed to observe that he was carrying a loaded pistol, Biden can write his name alongside these legends. He can reach for the quickest solution to the debt ceiling fiasco and secure Dark Brandon’s place in history by minting the coin.
The main criticism against minting the coin appears to be that it might worsen inflation. But the truth is, no one knows because we’ve never tried it—and certainly defaulting on the nation’s debt would have more immediate and drastic economic consequences than minting a coin and stashing it away. The idea may seem absurd on its face, but as Zachary Carter argued back in 2021, the real absurdity is the debt ceiling itself. There’s a beautiful symmetry about thwarting the ridiculous problem it poses with an equally ridiculous solution.