Speed Reads

What if...?

How the $1 trillion platinum coin would work, and how it could defuse the debt standoff

After weeks of high-stakes brinksmanship over raising the debt limit, Senate Democrats and Republicans appeared close to a deal early Thursday to, well, defuse the self-inflicted crisis for an entire three months. At some point, everybody seems to agree, 50 Democrats and Vice President Kamala Harris will raise the debt limit; the only question is how difficult Republicans will make the process.

Or, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen could just mint a $1 trillion platinum coin and deposit it at the Federal Reserve. Discussion of the $1 trillion coin has been a mix of "clearly half-joking commentary on the nature of money itself," half-serious concerns about inflation and mixing monetary and fiscal policy, and "entirely sincere" assertions that a platinum coin is "a feasible solution for lowering the debt," Philip Bump writes at The Washington Post

How would it work? Well, the Commemorative Coin Authorization and Reform Act of 1995 authorizes Yellen to "mint and issue bullion and proof platinum coins" in any "denominations" she chooses. Former U.S. Mint director Philip Diehl tells Axios that a $1 trillion coin could be designed and minted "within hours," drawing from a stockpile of platinum blanks.

Actually making the coin would take "minutes," Axios' Felix Salmon writes, and "if it then needed to be physically deposited at the New York Fed, that's only a short helicopter ride away" from a mint near New York's West Point military academy. Bump estimates that a Chinook helicopter could get the platinum coin from the West Point mint to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in about 22 minutes. 

"The mint sits conveniently close to a golf course," and "if you leave the mint via the loading dock on its western side, it's about 0.2 miles to the closest large green," where the Chinook can land, Bump writes. After a 15 minute ride, "there's a helipad on the East River not far from the bank," and "then it's pretty straightforward," he adds: "Get in a car, head north under the FDR on surface streets and take a left on Maiden Lane. The door to the bank is up on the left."

If that sounds like the setup to a heist movie, well, you're not wrong. It's hard to imagine a thief being able to cash or deposit the world's only $1 trillion coin, but it would be legal U.S. tender —as The Simpsons cautioned in 1998.

Or, Bump shrugs, "Congress could just raise the debt ceiling as they always do."