Watch CBSN Live

Lawmakers mull selling land, gold to pay off government debt

government spending, money, debt, deficit, budget

The expectation in Washington is that Congress will, after plenty of political wrangling, pass legislation to raise the national debt limit.

Yet as negotiations over raising the debt limit and curbing government spending drag on, some Republicans are growing bolder in their defiance of warnings from the Treasury Department and many economists that failing to raise the debt limit could lead to economic catastrophe.

Should Congress fail to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt cap by Aug. 2, some conservatives (in and out of Congress) are suggesting selling off the nation's assets. For starters, they say, the U.S. has plenty of land -- and plenty of gold.

"I don't think Treasury has been up front with us. I am not convinced the sky will fall in on August 3," Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), a member of the House Tea Party Caucus, told Reuters. "I'm not an economist, but I have maintained a household. The federal government owns 70 percent of Utah, for example. There are federal buildings. If you need cash, let's start liquidating."

Republican lawmakers, like Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, have become emboldened in their skepticism after studying the issue with conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation, Politico reports.

Ron Utt, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, recently suggested to the Washington Post that U.S. could sell off its gold reserves from Fort Knox in order to pay down debt.

"It's just sort of sitting there," he said. "Given the high price [gold] is now, and the tremendous debt problem we now have, by all means, sell at the peak."

When asked about that idea, Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas -- known for his support of the gold standard and his interest in auditing the nation's gold reserves -- endorsed it.

Selling the nation's gold reserves would be "a good and moral decision," the congressman and GOP presidential candidate told the New York Sun. "An individual would have to do the same."

The Obama administration estimates the nation's gold reserves are worth about $370 billion, according to the Post.

In a letter to Congress in April, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner wrote that "to attempt a 'fire sale' of financial assets in an effort to buy time for Congress to act would be damaging to financial markets and the economy and would undermine confidence in the United States."

Geithner continued, "Selling the Nation's gold, for example, would undercut confidence in the United States both here and abroad."

An unnamed senior administration official told the Post, "Selling off the gold is just one level of crazy away from selling Mount Rushmore."

View CBS News In