Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew

With the end of the Summer break, now comes the return of the debt limit dance. From Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew’s letter to John Boehner:

“Congress should act as soon as possible to protect America’s good credit by extending normal borrowing authority well before any risk of default becomes imminent.

“Based on our latest estimates extraordinary measures are projected to be exhausted in the middle of October. At that point, the United States will have reached the limit of its borrowing authority, and Treasury would be left to fund the government with only the cash we have on hand on any given day, The cash balance at that time is currently forecasted to be approximately $50 billion.

“. . . A cash balance of approximately $50 Billion would be insufficient to cover net expenditures for an extended period of time. And, on certain days, net expenditures could exceed such a cash balance.

“. . . Protecting the full faith and credit of the United States is the responsibility of Congress because only Congress can extend the nation’s borrowing authority . . .“

OK. So, only Congress can extend the nation’s borrowing authority. But it doesn’t follow from that fact that protecting the full faith and credit of the United States is the sole responsibility of Congress.

The 14th Amendment, Section 4 of the US Constitution says in part:

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. . .

As have all members of Congress, both Treasury Secretary Lew and the President of the United States have sworn to uphold the Constitution, and this means, among other things, that the duty of each one of these officeholders is to see to it that they do all they can do to prevent the validity of the public debt from being questioned.

As we approach the time when the debt limit, and the lack of agreement between the two parties in Congress, will force the Government to miss payments, Congress does have an obligation to raise the debt limit or remove it entirely. But, Treasury Secretary Lew and the President need to acknowledge that there are things they can do too to avoid a default on the public debt, apart from either reminding Congresspeople of their responsibility, or giving into Republican demands.

One method of getting around the debt limit that Jack Lew and the President have is Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS). The Federal Reserve Chairman and then Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner took that option “off the table” in January of 2013, in the wake of a significant buildup of sentiment favoring its use. But off the table or not, that option is legal, and the Fed Chair’s opposition to using it isn’t controlling, since the Secretary can overrule the Fed Secretary on money matters they disagree upon, and force the Fed Chair to either get the face value of a Platinum coin deposited in the US. Mint’s Public Enterprise Fund (PEF) account credited, or resign.

There are any number of PCS options the President can use to get around the debt limit by generating coin seigniorage profits. I’ve outlined many of them here. Some stop with $1/2 Trillion coins, some go over $1 Trillion up to $5 Trillion, and still others envision very high face value coins ranging up to $60 Trillion and up.

For getting around the debt ceiling, coins with face-values up to $5 Trillion will certainly remove the need to issue further debt subject to the limit and break the ceiling. However, minting a platinum coin with a face-value of say, $60 Trillion is also a political game-changer, because it results in filling the Mint’s PEF account, and eventually the Treasury General Account with enough in credits to make it obvious to the most concrete thinker that the Government has the capacity to pay all the debt subject to the limit, issue no more such debt if it so chooses, and also spend whatever Congress chooses to appropriate in the way of new programs to solve current problems.

So, issuing a $60T coin, removes the issue (excuse) of whether the Government of the United States can afford to pay for employment programs, educational programs, infrastructure, new energy foundations, a Medicare for All program, new R & D programs, or expansion of the social safety net from the political table. Issuing that coin can and would create a new political climate moving American politics much further to the left within the space of a few months. It is what the President ought to do. It is what he would do, if he were really committed to the well-being of most Americans.

Imagine a petition letter written to Jack Lew saying this:

Dear Secretary Lew,

Treasury should act as soon as possible to protect America’s good credit by using Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS) well before any risk of default becomes imminent.

Based on your latest estimates, extraordinary measures are projected to be exhausted in the middle of October. At that point, the United States will have reached the limit of its borrowing authority, and Treasury would be left to fund the government with only the cash we have on hand on any given day, The cash balance at that time is currently forecasted to be approximately $50 billion.

A cash balance of approximately $50 Billion would be insufficient to cover net expenditures for an extended period of time. And, on certain days, net expenditures could exceed such a cash balance.

Protecting the full faith and credit of the United States is not the sole responsibility of Congress, but your responsibility too, because you, the Treasury Secretary, have the authority under the law to order the US Mint to use PCS to fill the Mint’s PEF account and ultimately the Treasury General Account with enough reserves to make the debt limit a dead letter, by paying down the debt subject to the limit to zero, gradually, as it falls due, and to use additional seigniorage to fund current and future deficit spending appropriated by Congress.

Therefore we, the undersigned call upon you, to stop calling upon Congress to do its duty to prevent default by raising the debt lift, when you can prevent it yourself by using PCS. We further call upon you to do your duty and order the Mint to produce a $60 Trillion Platinum coin and then deposit that coin in the Mint’s Public Enterprise Fund account at the Fed.

That’s it. #mintthe60Tcoin is still the solution to any debt limit problem. It’s been the solution since the debt limit crisis of the Summer of 2011. The things the Administration did then, and later, didn’t solve the debt limit problem. All they did is produce compromises that harmed people and the economy and allowed debt limit witch hunts to come back again, and again to cause more and more harm. It’s time now to drive that stake through the heart of the debt limit vampire. Join me in signing the #mintthe60Tcoin petition.

Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives