Why Treasury Won’t Try the Trillion Dollar Coin Gambit or Disregard the Debt Limit

Ezra Klein interviewed Mark Patterson, who served as the Chief of Staff of the Department of the Treasury from 2009-2013.  Here’s the relevant tidbit:

EK: If you’re this worried and the consequences are this bad, why not do something like declaring the debt ceiling unconstitutional under the 14th amendment or minting the coin?

MP: It’s been my view and the view of pretty much everyone in Treasury and everyone in the administration that if there was a viable legal strategy that could take the threat of default off the table we would eagerly embrace it. It’s not as though people in the administration were or are closed to cool, interesting, viable possibilities. But the things we’ve been presented haven’t withstood that scrutiny.

The coin is a clever, nifty idea but it has problems. The one that gets overlooked the most is it wouldn’t actually make everything normal after it was invoked. It would be subjected to all kinds of challenges and litigation. As a straightforward matter the Federal Reserve wouldn’t give Treasury a trillion dollars for that coin. We looked carefully at it, but for both practical and legal reasons, the legal reason being the law obviously wasn’t meant for anything like this and the practical reason being that the Federal Reserve would need to cooperate and wouldn’t, it wouldn’t work.

The 14th Amendment shares similar problems in which you would invoke a constitutional crisis of sorts. One side would say the president broke the law and should be impeached. That would occupy all the oxygen in Washington. That’s not a reason not to do it if it’s the right thing to do. But if the objective is keeping our status as the safest and best investment in the world you’ve created all kinds of doubts about us. I don’t think proponents have thought enough about what would happen after you did it.