Schweikert seeks to revive push to replace paper dollars with coins - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Schweikert seeks to revive push to replace paper dollars with coins

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Posted: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 9:14 am | Updated: 11:59 am, Fri Oct 21, 2011.

Does anyone remember the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin?

And is anyone actually using those gold-tinted Sacagawea dollar coins? Or those presidential or Native American coins that replaced them and are still being minted?

Despite that, a first-term Arizona congressman Republican thinks he can convince Americans to do what prior efforts have not: scrap their dollar bills in favor of coins. And he is undeterred that none of the prior efforts have gained widespread public support.

But Rep. David Schweikert is not relying on Americans to voluntarily trade in their bills for dollar coins that have so far proven unpopular. His legislation actually would force people to give up the greenbacks in their wallets, purses and pockets.

Schweikert said he does not intend to make the same mistake as one former member of the state’s congressional delegation.

It was Rep. Jim Kolbe who in 1997 pushed through a measure to replace the wildly unpopular Susan B. Anthony dollar with what became the Sacagawea coin.

But as Kolbe later conceded, the bill he was able to get through Congress had a shortcoming: It allowed the government to keep printing those dollars bills. And as long as those bills remain available, the public has shown little interest in replacing them with more coins jingling in their pockets.

Schweikert’s legislation, by contrast, would require federal reserve banks to stop issuing dollar bills when the circulation of dollar coins exceeds 600 million a year -- but no later than four years after the measure becomes law.

He conceded that telling constituents he knows what’s best for them could be politically risky. But Schweikert said the prior efforts failed because of “half-hearted’’ efforts or when “a handful of politicians get nervous and run away from it.’’

And Schweikert has an answer for critics: It’s one way to deal with the mounting deficit.

“There’s this hunger out there for ways to save money,’’ he said.

A report by the General Accounting Office puts the cost of minting a coin at about 15 cents, compared to less than 3 cents for a bill.

But the GAO puts the average lifespan of a bill in the neighborhood of three years.

“A coin has about a 30-year life,’’ Schweikert said.

He put the annual savings at $184 million. Multiply that out over just the first decade, he said, “it starts being real money.’’

Schweikert contends it will not be necessary to force Americans to give up their dollar bills. He said the experience elsewhere proves that people will accept coins over small-denomination bills.

The five euro bill is the smallest paper money among countries that use it, with one- and two-euro coins.

And Canada replaced its one dollar bill with a coin commonly called a “loonie’’ because of the waterfowl image it carries.

He acknowledged that there some “obvious parochialism’’ behind his proposal: The current crop of dollar coins contain 85 percent copper.

“It’s good for Arizona,’’ he said.

Number of coins produced, 1979 - 2009

Coin design Number as of 11/09 Production years
Susan B. Anthony 932 million 1979-1982 and 1999-2000
Sacagawea 1.47 billion 2000-2008
Presidential series 1.72 billion 2007-ongoing
Native American series 92 million 2009-ongoing
Total 4.2 billion*  

* U.S. Mint reports that about $1 billion is held in reserve and not in circulation.

Source: General Accounting Office

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