Debt-ceiling fight: Who should be on the $1 trillion platinum coin?

The Week

As the idea of neutering the debt ceiling with a mega-coin gains cache, it's time to start picking the trillion-dollar face

It's not quite clear who actually takes seriously the idea of minting a pair of $1 trillion platinum coins to sidestep the upcoming debt-ceiling battle, who just wants the option on the table as a warning to House Republicans, and who's just having fun with the idea. But it's pretty clear that the "oddball suggestion" is gaining traction, says Quentin Fottrell at MarketWatch. And if President Obama actually followed through with the scheme — which, as Paul Krugman points out, is perfectly legal and not that unlike what the Treasury does anyway — "some American's mug would be memorialized as the richest head on earth." Given the notoriety of the plan, and the fact that "historically, the biggest cheeses go on the smallest denominations" — think Lincoln on the penny and Washington on the dollar bill — "it may not be such a big compliment to be placed on such a large coin." But somebody would have to grace the design with their trillion-dollar face. Here, 10 suggestions:

1. Ronald Reagan

SEE MORE: 4 reasons the government won't mint a trillion-dollar coin to prevent a debt-ceiling crisis

The Gipper is "on a million commemorative coins already," say Benjy Sarlin and Michael Lester at Talking Points Memo. "How could any self-respecting Republican oppose putting him on the most famous one of all time?" It's not hard to imagine Reagan-worshippers blanching at giving our 40th president the nod, says Ilya Gerner at Comedy Central's Indecision. But it would at least "force Republicans who dislike the idea to make their own Sophie's Choice."

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2. John Boehner

SEE MORE: Does Obama have the power to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling?

Traditionally, the U.S. Mint graces coins with inspirational faces that unite rather than divide, Barnard College history professor Carl Wennerlind tells MarketWatch. So "to use polarizing figures, such as Ronald Reagan or John Maynard Keynes, would probably not be a good idea." But we could set that tradition aside for poetic justice, says Krugman at The New York Times. The obvious choice is House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), "because without him and his colleagues, this wouldn't be necessary."

3. Paul Krugman

SEE MORE: Does the fiscal cliff deal vindicate George W. Bush?

Or, "on the other hand, you could just cut out the middleman and put Paul Krugman on the thing," say Sarlin and Lester at Talking Points Memo.

4. Woodrow Wilson

SEE MORE: Why the $1 trillion coin campaign is good for America

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Wilson already has a history of appearing on large currency — his was the face on the $100,000 bill issued to the Federal Reserve in 1934 — so he's a natural fit for the $1 trillion coin, Robert Schmansky at Clear Financial Advisors tells MarketWatch. Besides, "he gave us the Federal Reserve."

SEE MORE: The looming debt-ceiling fight: Worse than the fiscal cliff?

5. Michael Phelps

SEE MORE: What the fiscal-cliff deal says about Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor

Sure, if it's up to those "stuffed shirts at the U.S. Mint," we'll get just another "president and an iconic building" on the mega-coin, say Dan Kois and Andrew Morgan at Slate. "Where's the energy? Where's the creative fire?" This design should be crowd-sourced, open to the creativity of the American people. So, America, "beat Michael Phelps riding an eagle. We dare you."

6. Ron Paul

SEE MORE: Why the fiscal cliff deal is good news for conservatives

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Why the Fed-hating Paul? "For his contributions to monetary discourse," of course, says Indecision's Ilya Gerner.

SEE MORE: The GOP bid to ban the absurd trillion-dollar-coin trick

7. Dr. Evil

SEE MORE: After conservative revolt, the House clears fiscal-cliff deal

This absurd idea of minting a $1 trillion coin "is an elegant solution — if you are a cartoon villain given to sitting in a vast underground bunker and innovating plans for world domination while petting a white cat," says Heidi Moore at The Guardian. In the real world, it's just "a large-scale trolling project" by a "relentless group of impish bloggers and columnists." That makes the cartoonish, cat-petting Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies the perfect fit, say TPM's Sarlin and Lester. "Who better to announce a coin worth one trillion dollars. Muahahahaha!"

8. Pro-coin bloggers Josh Barro and Joe Weisenthal

We're with the impish bloggers and columnists, say the financial pros at Attain Capital Management. "Mint the coin. Pull out the rug from beneath the foot-stomping pouters on Capitol Hill and force them to act their age." And to celebrate, let's decorate the coin with the face of two of the blogosphere's biggest cheerleaders of the scheme: Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider and Bloomberg's Josh Barro. Huzzah!

9. Us

Whose face on the trillion dollar coin? We racked up the debt together, so borrow from Time, make the coin super shiny, and stamp "YOU."

— davidfrum (@davidfrum) January 8, 2013

10. Harry Truman

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"There is one pitfall to the platinum-coin scenario that has gone overlooked" by Krugman, Barro, Weisenthal, and the other proponents," says Dan Amira at New York. But not by the geniuses behind The Simpsons. In the 1998 episode "The Trouble With Trillions," Homer is sent to recover a $1 trillion bill printed by President Truman — and bearing his likeness — that was then stolen by Mr. Burns. Watch the relevant bits below, but the long and short of it is, it doesn't end well. Imagining Truman on the new bit of mega-coinage would be a useful reminder to just "say no to the trillion-dollar platinum coin."

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