WASHINGTON -- The White House routinely rules out the idea of President Barack Obama invoking the Constitution to raise the debt ceiling in the event that Congress fails to do so. But minting a $1 trillion coin to avoid a debt default? Maybe.
White House press secretary Jay Carney didn't explicitly rule out that option during his Wednesday briefing. The idea, which has gained traction in recent days despite its absurdity, is that the government could mint a $1 trillion platinum coin and the Treasury Department could use it to cover the nation's debt obligations. The debt ceiling would no longer be an issue.
Carney was asked about the prospect of Obama using the accounting gimmick if Congress doesn't raise the debt ceiling by its mid-February deadline. While Carney certainly didn't endorse it, he didn't dismiss it with the same clarity that the White House does every time the 14th Amendment option comes up as a possible nuclear option.
"The option here is for Congress to pay its bills," Carney said repeatedly when asked about the prospect of Obama considering the $1 trillion coin approach. "There is no Plan B. There is no backup plan."
Pressed again later for a "yes" or "no" answer, Carney still wouldn't give one.
"I would refer you to Treasury for specifics of this question," he said. "I can tell you the president does not believe that there is a backup plan or a Plan B or an off-ramp. The only option here is for Congress to fulfill ... its responsibility and ensure the United States pays its bills."
To be sure, parsing Carney's comments is the ultimate exercise in splitting hairs. But as the country approaches its need to raise the debt ceiling, the political process has been reduced to such hair splitting.
While the $1 trillion coin approach may sound ridiculous, a mid-1990s law does give the Treasury Department the right to mint a coin made out of a tiny bit of platinum and stamp whatever denomination it wants on it.