Paul Krugman, So What Will You Do, Mr. President?:
If I’d spent the past five years living in a monastery or something, I would take the Treasury Department’s declaration that the coin option is out as a sign that there’s some other plan ready to go. Maybe 14th Amendment, maybe moral obligation coupons or some other form of scrip, something.
And maybe there is a plan.
But as we all know, the last debt ceiling confrontation crept up on the White House because Obama refused to believe that Republicans would actually threaten to provoke default. Is the WH being realistic this time, or does it still rely on the sanity of crazies?
The thing is, the coin option sounds silly, but it clearly obeys the letter of the law. As far as I can tell, none of the other options — other than outright surrender — has the same virtue. Failing to pay debt service would be a breach of contract. Paying contractors, and maybe Social Security recipients, in scrip would violate the law, which says that they should be paid — not given IOUs. Deciding that the president has the right to ignore the debt limit after all would avoid these legal breaches at the expense of another breach.
And default in any of these senses would risk a huge collapse of confidence.
So is there a plan, or will it just be another case of tough talk followed by a tail-between-the-legs retreat?
As I said, if we didn’t have some history here I might be confident that the administration knows what it’s doing. But we do have that history, and you have to fear the worst.
Mint the damn coin, Mr. President.