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Congress adopts new authorization rules

It now will be harder to authorize new commemorative coins and new congressional gold medals after action taken in the House of Representatives.

House Financial Services Committee chair Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and his 70-person committee have adopted new rules on how the committee will handle commemorative coinage matters and proposals for congressional gold medals.

The move was quietly announced as Congress debated the trillion dollar stimulus package and escaped critical notice.

Every Congress sets internal rules to describe how they will govern; the alternative is to be deluged with proposals that members do not want to take the time to consider unless there is overwhelming support from members and their constituents, which is what the new rules attempt to do.

The way that they handle it is to declare “out of order” anything that deviates from the established norm, which was approved by the entire committee on Feb. 10 as part of its reorganization.

“It shall not be in order for the Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology to hold a hearing on any commemorative medal or commemorative coin legislation unless the legislation is co-sponsored by at least two-thirds of the members of the House,” is the first rule.

That means that 290 members of the House must either co-sponsor legislation or sign a discharge petition. The task is a daunting one, and that is intentional. It’s designed to prevent an Elvis coin or one honoring “Bozo the Clown” and keeps with the solemn purpose that coinage has to depict something worthy of a great nation.

Rules also say now that, “It shall not be in order for the subcommittee to approve a bill or measure authorizing commemorative coins for consideration by the full committee which does not conform with the mintage restrictions established by section 5112 of title 31, United States Code.”

Dumb as this sounds, this keeps the denominations the same – half dollar, silver dollar) and $5 gold piece – and does not allow for creative marketing, such as issuing a new $3 gold piece.

“In considering legislation authorizing congressional gold medals, the subcommittee shall apply the following standards –  (i) the recipient shall be a natural person;  (ii) the recipient shall have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.”

The first section is designed to make sure Coca-Cola doesn’t get a national medal; the second to make sure it is not a fad of the moment.

The committee’s rules also provide that, “the recipient shall not have received a medal previously for the same or substantially the same achievement,” a provision designed to avoid embarrassment of duplicating the achievement. For example, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover was given the congressional gold medal in 1958 and again in 1982.

Another requirement is that, “the recipient shall be living or, if deceased, shall have been deceased for not less than 5 years and not more than 25 years,” and “ the achievements were performed in the recipient’s field of endeavor, and represent either a lifetime of continuous superior achievements, or a single achievement so significant that the recipient is recognized and acclaimed by others in the same field, as evidenced by the recipient having received the highest honors in the field.”

This is also designed to solve other issues, such as George Gershwin honored in 1985 (he died in 1937, 48 years earlier), Peanuts cartoonist Charles Shultz, who died Feb. 12, 2000, and was given posthumous recognition with the congressional gold medal by law passed June 20, 2000, substantially less than five years.

Some other names that would have been recently affected: baseball great Jackie Robinson, awarded the congressional gold medal in 2003, or 31 years after he died (1972), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., assassinated 1968 and given a gold medal by Act of Congress some 36 years later in 2004.

Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., proposed legislation that would have limited congressional gold medals to no more than two per year. On Jan. 26, 2005, the House approved it by a vote of 231 to 173. That measure then died in the Senate.

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