I doubt there is a Republican on the House side of the Capitol who is kept awake nights fretting over how bad it will be for the party if the president puts twelve zeros on a fancy nickel and uses it to pay for green-energy subsidies. If the president minted The Coin, it might win him a few cheers from the same folks on the professional left who have called him a wuss for four years. But it would convince just about everybody else that he’s back on the Choom Gang. That’s why it won’t ever happen unless the luck of the GOP is as good in 2013 as it was bad in 2012.
Of course, there’s a tongue-half-in-cheek character to the calls to mint The Coin. But the half of the tongue not in the cheek suggests that the ploy’s proponents are missing the obvious in the debt-ceiling debate. On the one hand, there is no compelling reason to think that the GOP will let the United States default. It didn’t in 2011, and it won’t in 2013. Moreover, the fiscal-cliff deal and Sandy-relief bill have shown that Speaker Boehner is newly willing to let Nancy Pelosi provide a bulk of yes votes on urgent matters.
On the other hand, the House Republicans want spending cuts, and the debt ceiling is the nearest and biggest lever. It’s in their interest to maximize political uncertainty ahead of the deadline. After all, it makes no sense for the White House to make any concessions to the Republicans if it knows the GOP won’t allow default. It’s called chicken, and its older than dirt, never mind platinum. If you’re sure the other guy will swerve, you don’t yield an inch; and if you’re sure he won’t, you don’t play the game. That the White House is playing the game once again is evidence that the GOP has hit the credible-threat sweet spot. Combined with the fact that raising the debt ceiling is even more unpopular than raising taxes on the middle class, the Republicans might not get much, but they’ll get something.