Inside the Beltway: The trillion-dollar coin

The White House had better snap up one of these quick: American Mint has just issued the “$1 Trillion Coin,” a gleaming, platinum-plated collector’s coin that shows what the legendary, imaginary trillion-dollar coin could look like. There’s an image of the U.S. Capitol’s “Freedom” statue on the front, and “one trillion dollars” and “no legal tender” on back. And to the inevitable delight of both President Obama and the Republican Congress, this version is only $9.95.

“It’s a great way to commemorate this challenging moment in history,” says Kevin Sacher, president of the Pennsylvania-based company.

The challenging moment, of course, is the nation’s $16 trillion debt, ramped up by recent jaunty suggestions by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and an assortment of officials that the U.S. Treasury issue a $1 trillion coin to “sidestep the debt ceiling,” and somehow avoid defaulting on the behemoth debt. Yes, somehow. Well, at least everyone can have a reasonable facsimile of such a potent chunk of change. See it here: Americanmint.com

A BILLION HERE, A BILLION THERE

Even as President Obama makes dire predictions about the looming sequester, there are practical lawmakers with gumption and numbers who warn about inane spending. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is just such a guy. The Virginia Republican has released a no-frills recap of the grievous spending of taxpayer money which clearly comes under the “read it and weep” category:

• $1.7 billion: amount spent on maintenance for unused federal property around the nation.

• $115 billion: amount spent on “improper payments” of benefits to people not entitled to them.

• $1.6 billion: amount spent on free public cellphones in 2012.

• $100 million: amount spent in Environmental Protection Agency grants to foreign countries.

• $51.6 million: the amount the federal government spent last year promoting Obamacare and paying public relations firms.

• $4 million: Amount spent each year for a TV production studio at the Internal Revenue Service.

• $1.2 million: Amount spent by the a National Science Foundation study to teach senior citizens to play “World of Warcraft,” a video game.

“As Sen. Everett Dirksen once reportedly said, ‘A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money,’ or as President Obama once told me, ‘There’s nothing too crazy in here.’ So rather than calling for tax hikes, again, or cut back any needed government services, the president and Senate Democrats should get to work and embrace some or all of these sensible spending cuts and find common ground,” Mr. Cantor says in summation.

THE ‘SCARE’ BLAME

There’s always a gassed up blame vehicle parked in the White House garage these days. A blame vehicle? But of course. It’s any vexing problem that President Obama can conveniently blame on Republicans, painting the party as heartless, clueless and uncooperative. The press and even some pollsters are only too happy to go for a spin.

In recent months, assorted White House blame vehicles included the “fiscal cliff,” a gridlocked Congress, spending cuts, stalled immigration reform, student loans, the housing crisis and fewer student loans — to name a few. But wait. There’s more.

During a speech Tuesday, Mr. Obama added the unthinkable-unemployment-with dangerous-consequences blame vehicle to the collection. The president blamed GOP “special interests” for the possible furloughs of first-responders, FBI agents, border patrol officers, air traffic controllers and federal prosecutors — affecting public safety, court cases and airport security.

“Why not first furlough or reduce the hours of the thousands and thousands and thousands of bureaucrats in Washington, the ones who make so much more money than the first responders and don’t risk their lives for us on a daily basis?” asks Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, who suggests that Mr. Obama is seeking a “sequester scare.”

THE ORIGINAL SEQUESTER

“President Obama said ‘these cuts are not smart, these cuts are not fair, and they will hurt our economy,’ but what he neglected to say is that these cuts were his idea,” notes Sen. John Cornyn, regarding the president’s continued call to avert sequestration, something the Texas Republican already has proposed himself.

SINFUL READING

Oh, and it’s free, too. The Competitive Enterprise Institute is offering “The Wages of Sin Taxes,” a 75-page treatise by analyst Christopher Snowdon for free download at its website (cei.org). The analysis begins with a 1975 quote from Milton Friedman: “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”

Indeed. Mr. Snowdon declares that “sin taxes” foisted on consumers for alcohol, tobacco, snack foods and other such products are not necessary for recouping revenue lost to the state. Nor are they particularly effective at tackling sin or reducing harm. In fact, sin taxes create a range of unintended consequences that damage health, encourage criminality, and even lead to lower tax revenue, he says.

Naturally, the institute will celebrate the publication with a cocktail party on Wednesday, not four blocks from the White House. And the libation of choice: the “Don’t Tax Metini”

POLL DU JOUR

• 74 percent of likely U.S. voters say the federal government is not effective in preventing illegal immigrants from living and working in the U.S.

• 67 percent do not have confidence that the government could run effective background checks on the estimated 13 million illegal immigrants currently in the U.S.

• 53 percent say America’s borders are not secure, 41 percent disagree.

• 51 percent say illegal immigration is a “serious problem” in the U.S.; 35 percent say it is “somewhat” of a problem.

• 7 percent say illegal immigration is no problem, 5 percent describe it as “beneficial to the U.S.”

Source: A Federation for American Immigration Reform/Pulse Opinion survey of 1,000 likely U.S. voters conducted Feb. 6.

Wishful thinking, big prognostications to jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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