The Hidden History of the Trillion Dollar Coin
As the latest showdown over raising the country’s debt limit comes to a close, and as Washington gears up to repeat the fight in December, we’re hearing another round of calls for that charmingly cranky idea, the trillion-dollar coin. If the government doesn’t have enough money to meet its obligations, the argument goes, it can simply mint a platinum coin worth $1 trillion or more. While the law limits how many gold, silver, or copper coins are in circulation, Congress passed legislation in the mid-1990s that appears to give the Treasury a much freer hand when issuing coins made of platinum. The bill in question was only supposed to cover commemorative coins, but its actual language isn’t so narrow, and so the forces gathered under the #MintTheCoin hashtag believe that they’ve found a loophole.
This idea has been sloshing around liberal circles for about a decade, going back to the debt-ceiling fights of the Tea Party era. But the concept is older than that. It’s even older than “The Trouble With Trillions,” the 1998 Simpsons classic in which the U.S. government prints a trillion-dollar bill, Mr. Burns steals it, and he and Homer flee to start a newer, freer country. (They end up in Cuba.) In fact, it’s been around longer than that commemorative coin bill. It goes back at least as far as 1992, when Lt. Col. James “Bo” Gritz—forefather of the militia movement, self-proclaimed “real-life Rambo,” and presidential candidate of the America First Coalition—promoted a strikingly similar idea on the campaign trail, alongside his promises to rescue POWs from Vietnam, withdraw from the Un
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