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Presidential dollars pass

In one fell swoop, Congress has authorized 44 circulating Presidential $1 coins, about 40 First Spouse gold bullion coins, five new Lincoln cents, and a Buffalo nickel design $50 gold piece for a total of about 90 new coins.

The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 will be remembered for years to come for its excess. It was passed Dec. 13, sending the legislation on to the White House for signature into law. After 40 minutes of debate, the bill squeaked by the House on a motion to suspend the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority or a 290-vote minimum with one more than required.

At 7:15 p.m., the House took up the question of S. 1047, the Senate version of a bill that had originated in the House of Representatives, but then took on a life of its own including several significant Senate amendments.

On the motion to suspend the rules and pass, the bill to require the Secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of each of the nation?s past Presidents and their spouses, respectively, to improve circulation of the $1 coin, to create a new bullion coin, and for other purposes, was approved 291 to 111, with 16 members not voting.

More Republicans voted against the bill than Democrats, though the measure had bipartisan support. 103 GOP members, 187 Democrats and 1 independent voted in favor; 111 Republicans and 21 Democrats voted against the measure.

Approved are four new one cent pieces for the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln?s birth in 2009, together with a commemorative bronze one-cent coin using the 1909 composition to be struck in the same year. Also authorized: a lengthy series of at least 44  presidential $1 coins to circulate side by side with the Sacagawea dollar. A golden finish will be employed.

Included as a a well is a new .9999 fine half-ounce $10 gold coin series that would honor America?s First Ladies, a non-circulating, legal-tender commemorative silver dollar honoring the 50th anniversary of school desegregation in Little Rock, Ark., for 2007, and a new .9999 fine one-ounce $50 gold bullion coin that would bear the Buffalo nickel design of James Earle Fraser from 1913.  Bronze medallic versions of the first Lady pieces are also mandated to be struck.

Although the House of Representatives had previously passed nearly all of these items, a sense of drama remains because the Senate passed them Nov. 18 as a Senate bill S. 1047 in amended form, and the House had to decide to either agree to the changes by direct vote or in conference have a different solution ? with both bodies in complete agreement before the bill can be presented to the President for signature into law.

Here, the House adopted the Senate position, which is really a better version of H.R 902, which was introduced Feb. 17, 2005, by Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., former chair of the House coinage subcommittee and the intellectual and legislative father of the Mint?s state quarter program.

As passed, the bill authorizes the U.S. Mint to make changes to the design of the cent for calendar year 2009, where  four different designs would be circulating and one non-circulating, legal-tender  copper ?penny? would be issued to commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln.

The four Lincoln circulating designs would embody various aspects of his life from youth to the White House.  Beginning in calendar year 2010 the reverse of the cent would bear an image emblematic of ?Lincoln?s preservation of the United States as a single united country.? This could, of course, be the Lincoln Memorial as used in its current form, or feature a close-up of the Daniel Chester French statue, or have some other design. We?ll find out in 2010.

The secretary of the Treasury is also required to issue a one-cent coin in 2009 with the ?exact metallic content? as the one-cent coin contained in 1909. These are strictly for collectors, or as a the bill puts it, ?for numismatic purposes.?

The four circulating coin designs are an expansion of the success of the state quarter program and Lewis & Clark nickels.

The main portion  of the bill  requires the Secretary of the Treasury to mint new, circulating $1 coins in commemoration of each of the nation?s past Presidents and non-circulating gold coins honoring their spouses. It also hopes to find ways to improve circulation of the Sacagawea $1 coin.

The legislation calls for a Presidential coin portraiture series of at least 44 golden-colored dollar coins and a First Lady .9999 fine gold half-ounce bullion coin. (The legislation refers to it in the politically correct manner of ?first spouse?).

Unlike earlier versions, for this one is kicking around for a while, the bill allows for simultaneous striking of the Sacagawea dollar with the Presidential portrait coins. The current as a well as a all prior bills only call for portraits of those Presidents who have completed their term of office by the time it is their turn to be honored.

Coins would be produced for circulation at the rate of four per year, so with 43 Presidents at the current time, production will include at least one and possibly more portraits, depending on the results of the election of 2008, 2012 and beyond. The program initiates in 2007 and would complete in 2018. 

Presidential elections take place in 2008, 2012 and 2016, so under the current scenario, the continuity program would consist of at least 45 coins, barring an unforeseen change in succession to the nation?s highest office. It could, of course, be a greater number.

Rep. Castle, former chair of the House coinage subcommittee, is the author of the new legislation in the House. The Senate?s principal sponsor is Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H.

Next on the coin hit parade is a .9999 fine one-ounce $50 gold bullion coin.  ?Obverse and reverse of the gold bullion coins struck … during the first year of issuance shall bear the original designs by James Earle Fraser, which appear on the five-cent coin commonly referred to as a the ?Buffalo nickel? or the ?1913 Type 1?.?

The new coin will ?have inscriptions of the weight of the coin and the nominal denomination of the coin incused in that portion of the design on the reverse of the coin commonly known as the ?grassy mound?; and bear such other inscriptions? as a the secretary of the Treasury determines to be appropriate. 

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