Ann McFeatters - House could cause chaos with government shutdown

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You have to admire the quirkiness of the ideas being put forward to solve our fiscal mess, in lieu of doing the real work of governing.

The most interesting was the trillion dollar coin, which would have been minted out of pure platinum and stored by the Treasury Department as an asset. Presumably, we would all go to our safety deposit boxes and pull out our platinum jewelry and take off our wedding rings and send them to Washington. (Just sorting the real from the fake would be quite a feat.)

The resulting coin would be so gigantic it would need a cavernous new government facility, which every legislator would want in his/her state. It would never get built because that would take an act of Congress, and it's clear Congress doesn't know how to act.

Strangely, the White House did not immediately ridicule this idea.

Then there is the let's-make-friends-with-China policy. Since every dollar we spend that isn't related to entitlement spending such as Medicare or Social Security is borrowed from China, the idea is to become best buddies so China will keep lending money to us. Eventually, we would all have to speak Mandarin, forget about the Internet and give them the West Coast.

Of real currency (ha ha) in the House at least, is the idea of refusing to raise the debt ceiling and shutting down the government. This would cause worldwide recession and financial instability but, no matter, those spendthrift bureaucrats would be taught a lesson. When their offices had no heat or power and all activity by government ceased -- inspecting food, watching out for terrorists, keeping airplanes in the air, making the big boys play fair -- they'd be sorry.

This idea comes from people who were elected to Congress apparently without ever taking Economics 101 or learning what the debt ceiling actually means.

They think failing to raise the debt ceiling means sticking it to President Barack Obama and not letting him spend more money.

There are a few problems with this thesis: The debt ceiling refers to paying for what Congress already has spent. The president of the United States does not spend money; Congress does.

No Congress has ever voted against raising the debt ceiling. The nation would have no money to pay its debts. No one would lend to us. We would lose all financial respect. Soon we would be living in a banana republic without the bananas.

Many believe Washington wastes so much money the only way to stop it is to close it all down. That may sound appealing. But it would mean chaos.

There would be no Social Security checks, no grants to researchers on the brink of new discoveries, no air traffic controllers, no disaster relief, no pay to soldiers or their families, no safety standards for hospital equipment or bioengineered new foods or air pollution standards. If civil unrest broke out in cities, no Army reserves would move in to quell the violence. Armed gangs would patrol election booths. Nobody would resolve disputes among states. Goodbye to flu vaccines and major road improvement projects.

To avoid a government shutdown if the debt ceiling is not raised, some want the president to invoke the 14th Amendment and go ahead with borrowing. This undoubtedly would invite another impeachment crisis.

Some want Obama to issue IOUs or scrip to government workers and contractors, Social Security recipients and hospitals and doctors treating the elderly. When Treasury got enough money, scrip could be redeemed for cash. The precedent is California, which ran out of money in 2009 and issued scrip until the legislature got its act together to permit redemption.

One wonders how many grocery stores and power companies would be sympathetic to people clutching handfuls of paper scrip waiting for Congress to authorize its debts to be paid.

There is a more reasonable solution. It's called compromise.

(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.)

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