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Treasury won’t mint $1 trillion coin to raise debt ceiling

  • New York Times
  • Published Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, at 10:02 p.m.

— The Treasury Department said Saturday that it will not mint a trillion-dollar platinum coin to head off an imminent battle with Congress over raising the government’s borrowing limit.

“Neither the Treasury Department nor the Federal Reserve believes that the law can or should be used to facilitate the production of platinum coins for the purpose of avoiding an increase in the debt limit,” Anthony Coley, a Treasury spokesman, said in a written statement.

The Obama administration has indicated that the only way for the country to avoid a cash-management crisis as soon as next month is for Congress to raise the “debt ceiling,” which is the statutory limit on government borrowing. The cap is $16.4 trillion.

“There are only two options to deal with the debt limit: Congress can pay its bills or it can fail to act and put the nation into default,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. “Congress needs to do its job.”

In recent weeks, some Republicans have indicated that they would not agree to raise the debt limit unless Democrats agree to make cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security.

The White House has said that it would not negotiate spending cuts in exchange for congressional authority to borrow more, and it has insisted that Congress raise the ceiling as a matter of course, to cover expenses already authorized by Congress. In broader fiscal negotiations, it has said that it would not agree to spending cuts without commensurate tax increases.

The idea of minting a trillion-dollar coin drew wide if puzzling attention recently after some bloggers and economic commentators had suggested it as an alternative to involving Congress.

By virtue of an obscure law meant to apply to commemorative coins, the Treasury secretary could order the production of a high-denomination platinum coin and deposit it at the Federal Reserve, where it would count as a government asset and give the country more breathing room under its debt ceiling. Once Congress raised the debt ceiling, the Treasury secretary could then order the coin destroyed.

Carney, the press secretary, fielded questions about the theoretical tactic at a news conference last week. But the idea is now formally off the table.

The White House has also rejected the idea that it could mount a challenge to the debt ceiling itself, on the strength of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which holds that the “validity of the public debt” of the United States “shall not be questioned.”

The Washington Post earlier published a report that the Obama administration had rejected the platinum-coin idea.

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