White House asked about trillion-dollar-coin, doesn’t rule it out

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Carney, who said he had no coins in his pockets. ()
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Today, a week after Rep. Jerry Nadler kicked off a national debate about the legality and wisdom of minting a trillion-dollar coin to get around Republican threats over the debt ceiling, a member of the White House press corps asked about the possibility.

Asked by NBC's Chuck Todd asked whether the White House would consider the trillion-dollar-coin scheme as an option, press secretary Jay Carney said, "I would simply go back to 'the option here is for Congress to do its job and pay its bills,'" said Carney, recalling the situation last summer when the country careened toward the debt limit. "Let's not even pretend that's an OK scenario."

Todd pressed him as to whether he was ruling out the use of a trillion-dollar coin, in the same way Carney had conclusively ruled out using the Fourteenth Amendment in relation to a previous question.

"There is no Plan B," Carney said. "There is no backup plan."

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"The president's principles in this matter are very clear," he added. "There is no alternative to Congress raising the debt ceiling."

Todd said he was being "a little evasive," and asked if he was trying to leave some room.

Carney said there is "no substitute" for Congress extending the borrowing limit.

So Todd asked again if he would rule it out.

"You can speculate about a lot of things," Carney said, adding, "Nothing needs to come to these kinds of speculative notions."

The idea to circumvent the debt ceiling with a trillion-dollar coin took off last week, after Nadler said he was "absolutely serious" that the president has the statutory authority to mint a coin, in order to avoid a fight with House Republicans who have said they will require spending cuts to raise the debt ceiling.

Since then, it's percolated up from liberal economists and bloggers, to editorial pages, to Paul Krugman and other major media outlets, and, of course, the "Colbert Report." Last night, there was a coin segment on NBC's Nightly News, and David Letterman did a bit about it in his monologue.

Carney was insistent that the president will not negotiate on the debt ceiling.

"That's another way of asking about amendments and coins and articles," he said when asked if the White House has looked at other alternatives. "There are no Plan Bs here."

But reporters still weren't satisfied, and ABC's Jon Karl asked twice more if Carney would rule out the coin.

"I would refer you to Treasury for the specifics of this question," he said, adding, "The president's belief is that Congress needs to do its job."

The trillion-dollar-coin idea, first suggested here, is impractical politically (the cartoonish optics, for starters, would be really inconvenient for the White House) but potentially useful as a means of pointing up the comparable ridiculousness of using the threat of triggering national default on debt as a means of extracting cuts to spending and entitlement programs.