Dems Revive Controversial $1T Platinum Coin to Raise Debt Ceiling in Feud With GOP

The spectre of the possibility of an unprecedented default on the federal government's debt has revived an offbeat suggestion among some Democrats, the minting a $1 trillion platinum coin to shore up the U.S. Treasury.

The idea that the president's administration can issue a $1 trillion commemorative coin to avoid a debt ceiling crisis has been thrown around for more than a decade.

Former President Barack Obama admitted during a podcast interview during his final days in office that he had discussions with advisers about it.

The Biden White House didn't immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment. The Treasury Department also didn't respond.

A spokesman for Biden told reporters last month that they had rejected the idea.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, told reporters Tuesday that it was at least one of the possible solutions, among "others," that had been discussed to get around Republican roadblocks.

"Jerry Nadler wants to have a coin that doesn't require congressional action, so we've talked about an array of things," Pelosi told reporters.

A spokesman for Nadler, a Democratic Congressman from New York, didn't respond to Newsweek's request for more information. It's not the first time the current House Judiciary Chairman has floated the idea, though.

In January 2013, he was among the key voices to suggest that then-president Obama embrace the idea, which has been dubbed the "mint the coin" movement by its supporters.

"It sounds silly but it's absolutely legal. And it would normally not be proper to consider such a thing, except when you're faced with blackmail to destroy the country's economy, you have to consider things," he told the outlet Capital New York at the time.

The idea has been revived as Republicans have doubled down on their refusal to aid Democrats in lifting the debt ceiling as the Treasury Department warns default could hit in mid-October.

U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib, a progressive Democrat from Michigan, tweeted support for the idea on Tuesday posting "#MintTheCoin" as Democrats held a caucus meeting.

Mint the coin?

The idea of minting a trillion-dollar commemorative coin to shore up the nation's finances comes from an obscure law that gives the U.S. Treasury Secretary the authority to "mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary's discretion, may prescribe from time to time."

Proponents have picked up on the "denominations" note there, arguing that any amount could be minted at a normal coin size and deposited into the federal reserve to prevent a national debt crisis.

Obama admitted in an interview with Pod Save America that he had discussed the idea with then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in 2013 amid a showdown with then-GOP Speaker John Boehner. Obama admitted it was one of the "scariest" times of his presidency.

"We were having these conversations with Jack Lew and others about what options in fact were available because it had never happened before," he said. "There were all kinds of wacky ideas about how potentially you could have this massive coin—That I had the authority to just issue this massive ... trillion-dollar commemorative coin, and then on that basis, we could pay off the U.S. Treasury."

The White House didn't respond to a question whether Biden, who was vice president at the time, was involved in those discussions in 2013.

Where things stand now

Democrats initially tried to tie lifting the debt ceiling to a stopgap funding measure to prevent a government shutdown this week. Senate Republicans rejected the measure because of its inclusion of the debt ceiling. U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, had warned that the GOP was united in its refusal to raise the debt limit, despite the need of bipartisan support under Senate rules for the procedure Democrats pursued.

"Bipartisanship is not a light-switch that Democrats get to flip on when they need to borrow money and switch off when they want to spend money," he said on the Senate floor.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, tried again Tuesday to disconnect from the stopgap spending bill but sought permission to pass through with only Democrat support in a simple majority vote.

McConnell again rejected the attempt.

"There is no chance, no chance the Republican conference will go out of our way to help Democrats conserve their time and energy so they can resume ramming through partisan socialism as fast as possible," he said.

The White House repeatedly has called on a bipartisan approach to raising the debt limit.

"Obviously, we want to do this in a bipartisan fashion," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters again on Tuesday. "It's a shared responsibility. It's been done at times in a bipartisan manner in the past."

Debt Ceiling Revives 'Mint the Coin' Debate
There has been some calls by lawmakers to revive a concept of minting a $1 trillion coin to help avoid the government defaulting on its debts. The U.S. Capitol building is illuminated by the setting sun on September 26, 2021 in Washington, DC. Samuel Corum/Getty Images