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Week In News: The Debt Ceiling Whack-A-Mole


It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.


LYDEN: Cable news had a field day with the trillion-dollar coin solution to the debt ceiling standoff. But today, we learned it was a coin tossed. James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us, as he does most Saturdays. Hello there, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Jacki.

LYDEN: Well, Jim, the Treasury Department finally weighed in on this. I'll mentioned the Federal Reserve as well. I guess we're not going to have a platinum coin solution to the debt ceiling standoff.

FALLOWS: We're not, and it's actual news, you know, late this Saturday afternoon in that the executive branch the Obama administration is saying it's not going to use two of the possible loopholes that would avoid an outright showdown with the Congress over this debt ceiling fight, which we remember from back in 2011. One of them, which was surreal sounding but technically legal, would've been the trillion-dollar coin option where they just would invent money, and now that's not going to happen. We don't need to go into all of its ramifications.

The other is the administration reaffirmed that the president would not do something he is theoretically able to do, which is simply to go ahead and pay bills as they come in under his executive power through the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. He says he's not going to do that either. And that means we're headed for a flat-out showdown - the same kind we had back in 2011 - between a Congress that will not authorize an increase in the debt ceiling and the rest of the government, which has these bills coming due.

LYDEN: Why would the White House and the executive authority have done that, Jim? Pretty bitter fight, August of 2011, a really grueling one just over the holidays, and now another?

FALLOWS: I guess you could argue, number one, that the trillion-dollar coin idea was just too bizarre to pass the straight-face test. And the executive authority option, perhaps the president felt that there was some precedent he did not want to go down if they went that way. And because it was so damaging to the country, to world financial markets and to the president himself that they had the showdown a year and a half ago, the president must have recalculated that his bargaining position is stronger at this time. And that in the end, he can convince members of the Republican majority in the House that they should go ahead and actually pay the bills that have already been authorized by previous legislation the Congress has voted for. So I suppose that must be the reasoning.

LYDEN: Jim, more soberly here now, a young man named Aaron Swartz committed suicide yesterday. Outside of tech circles, perhaps not so widely known, but inside, a huge dynamic presence. You write about him on your blog today. Would you tell us more?

FALLOWS: Yes. In this past week, there have been two passings of different source that I've paid a lot of attention to. One is the writer Richard Ben Cramer, who was in his early 60s and died of cancer. And one of his most influential works was 20 years ago. Aaron Swartz, on the other hand, was 26. And over the past 12 years, since he was 14, he made an enormous following of - and mentors of people in the technology world who, number one, admired his technological virtuosity.

If you'll look at the founding of Reddit and a lot of other social media, he played an important role there. The other way in which he was seen as more influential and really has provoked this outsurge of tragedy in the technology world - in the last four or five years, he's been one of the most influential figures in talking about technology's social, cultural and political effect - how we can make sure that the communication technologies that have revolutionized all of our lives are used for more individual connection, more individual freedom, more of the good things in life and less of sort of the governmental and corporate controls. And so if people look for Aaron Swartz's obituaries on the Internet, they'll find out more about him.

LYDEN: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. And you can read his blog at It's a pleasure, Jim. Thanks.

FALLOWS: My pleasure, Jacki. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.