January 8, 2013
Paul Ryan Rep. Paul Ryan (Mary Altaffer/AP)

In the last few days, a number of outlets have started giving serious thought to the “platinum coin” option in the debt ceiling fight. In short, thanks to a loophole, the Treasury could mint a $1 trillion platinum coin to temporarily pay down the national debt until the debt-ceiling standoff has passed.

Defenders of this idea, including Bloomberg’s Josh Barro and my Post colleague Greg Sargent, point out that it is not as absurd as threatening default on the nation’s debts to force policy changes. But they also admit that, fundamentally, this is a gimmick; while the White House might be wise to be ready to mint the coin if absolutely necessary, it would look silly publicly threatening to do so. (And it would hand lovers of “pox on both houses” punditry an easy way out of chiding only Republicans.)

But that doesn’t mean the White House is helpless when it comes to framing the debate — far from it. The best idea remains one that Post columnist Matt Miller proposed last month: Raise the debt ceiling “just by the amount it would take to accommodate the debt Republicans voted for in Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget last year — $6 trillion over the next decade.”

As Miller wrote during the “fiscal cliff” standoff, the idea that Republicans actually care about the deficit is “demonstrably, laughably, even shockingly false.” The party showed absolutely no interest in controlling deficits during its six years in control of Congress and the White House. Several GOP moves since then have only confirmed that Republicans are interested only in using the national debt to try and scare people into adopting their unpopular policies.

After all, the failure of John Boehner’s “Plan B” tax proposal showed House Republicans’ determination to vote down debt solutions that didn’t conform to their tax ideology. The GOP has clung to pushing “chained CPI” as its favorite Social Security reform in this round of negotiations, since it cuts benefits without the politically dangerous headlines of “GOP cuts benefits,” but the Congressional Budget Office has found it’s actually one of the least effective policy options for extending Social Security’s solvency. And on Medicare, Republicans’ (and, unfortunately, some Democrats’) idea of raising the eligibility age would only lead to minimal savings, while hurting minorities hardest.

Given that Republicans’ priorities are their policies first, the debt a distant second and the health of our economy an even more distant third, Miller’s idea should be at the center of the White House’s strategy on the debt ceiling. Remember, the GOP caucus has repeatedly backed Ryan’s budgets, the latest of which, to repeat, adds $6 trillion in debt over 10 years. By continuously highlighting Republican duplicity and hypocrisy, the White House can give itself the most room to make the best deal for the American people.

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James Downie is The Washington Post’s Digital Opinions Editor. He previously wrote for The New Republic and Foreign Policy magazine.
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