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Opinion: No Gold Coins at the End of the Fiscal Cliff Rainbow

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As Washington hurtles towards a deadline on the fiscal cliff standoff, purported fixes to the deficit have been sent around with equal speed. The flavor du jour is the idea of replacing dollar bills with dollar coins could save taxpayers some $4.4 billion over the next 30 years.

Is this the light at the end of the tunnel for the budget showdown? Do away with the germy dollar bill and replace it with the dollar coin? Whew, thank God there is an answer to our crisis.

When I first saw this story, I reached into my jeans and pulled out the rumpled cash to count it: Twelve one dollar bills. They are pretty nasty - but light as a feather. Can you imagine what 12 one dollar coins would feel like in my pockets? No doubt I’d need to run to Tractor Supply (for you urbanites, that’s a store that sells a lot of heavy duty stuff) and get me a pair of John Deer suspenders. Those coins coupled with gravity could cause a serious wardrobe malfunction in front of my class of 200 students!

So the paper for coin solution is not going to be enough to resolve the spending and revenue crisis we face. It’s also not going to address the  clawing fight that emerged in the past two days between President Obama and Sen. Harry Reid vs. Rep. John Boehner and GOP leadership.

Besides the critical need to fix the economics of the fiscal cliff there are also profound political consequences to how the pre-Holiday game of chicken is going.

President Obama is obviously staking out a place in the higher-taxes-no-cuts-to-social-programs end of the negotiating spectrum. The Republicans in turn have retreated to their “no-tax increases, we need spending cuts” position. Now, if this results in a grand compromise at the end of the day with both sides moving towards each other the current dance of righteousness will not matter and history will declare it was a classic negotiating ritual. Everyone will be relieved if not happy and there will be a win-win- for both Democrats and the GOP.

However if the talks fail and we go off the cliff the million-dollar question becomes, "who will be blamed for the failure?" Will it be Obama for not negotiating in good faith and for leaking secret phone conversations between himself and Speaker Boehner? Obama has even asked Congress to give up the power to raise the debt ceiling and handing that to the White House. That could be a disaster in 2014 for Democrats IF voters blame the White House for playing too much hardball and crashing the negotiations.

On the other hand, in poll after poll respondents are saying that it’s the Republicans and especially the Tea Party wing of the GOP that’s to blame for being obstructionist, for squandering their political capital on “stopping Obama,” making sure that “Obama fails”, as Rush Limbaugh has said, and specifically for refusing to sign off on tax increases. That reinforces the polling numbers that show a solid majority of Americans feel taxes on the rich should be increased.

Some of you think it’s too early for me to be talking 2014 mid-term elections. I disagree. Everything that’s going on in DC HAS political consequences. And, by the way, you’re lucky I’m not writing more on the 2016 Presidential contest!

If only it were as easy as killing the paper dollar bill and replacing it with coins.