Tears for a Coin

That splat, splat, splat you hear is the sound of a thousand tears hitting the surface of lattes in the coffee dens frequented by Washington, D.C., liberals upon hearing the news that the Administration is ruling out the minting of a $1 trillion coin to prevent a stalemate on allowing the federal government to borrow enough money to service the nation’s debt.

And congressional Democrats are no doubt crestfallen to learn that the president has no intention of claiming the constitutional prerogative of the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling on his own, as both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi implied he should do in a joint letter delivered on Friday.

As reported by the Washington Post‘s Rosalind Helderman:

In a joint letter that served as a warning to congressional Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and his leadership team encouraged Obama to “take any lawful steps” to avoid default — “without Congressional approval, if necessary.”

(Politico has the letter, here.)

The White House wasn’t biting. From Annie Lowrey’s NYT report:

“There are only two options to deal with the debt limit: Congress can pay its bills, or it can fail to act and put the nation into default,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. “Congress needs to do its job.”

This would seem to lend credence to the theory about which Brother Kilgore wrote earlier this week: that the White House expects Republican leaders, presumably chastened by public opinion, not to allow the U.S. to default on its debt. Of course, that opinion piece by AEI’s James Capretta, referenced by Kilgore and New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, seemed to signal an avenue of strategic retreat, as Kilgore described it, for the G.O.P. The retreat would involve a form of water torture, with no grand agreement, but rather monthly extensions of the debt limit. As Kilgore describes the plan:

Capretta is explicitly arguing against any agreement, and seems to think the short-term debt limit extensions are a way for GOPers to signal their grudging willingness to discharge the country’s obligations without conceding they are legitimate.

Add to that the big, public taking-them-all-to-school Washington Post piece by Frank Luntz that we mentioned earlier — the one that explicitly instructs Republican leaders not to use the language of hostage-shooting in debt ceiling messaging, and you get where the White House might be taking its signals from.

Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, speaking last week on Meet the Press, urged G.O.P. leaders not to mess with the debt ceiling, stating his preference for using a showdown on a continuing resolution — the means by which Congress appropriates money to government operations in the absence of a legislated budget. Luntz, however, uses his piece, ostensibly about the language the G.O.P. should use on these issues, to caution against a government shutdown.

“Americans don’t want a government shutdown — for any reason,” Luntz writes.

Absent the drama of the minting of a giant coin or the invocation of a constitutional crisis, the battle for the financing of the debt becomes, well, yet one more tale of obstruction and the impenetrable world of finance.

How sad for the Washington press corps.