Skip to main content

Congress has coin work left

As the 109th Congress enters its fall sprint to the end, several numismatic measures remain on the table for possible consideration.
  • Author:
  • Publish date:

The 109th Congress was to get back in session just after Labor Day in a fall sprint to do the unfinished people?s business before they adjourn for the year and concentrate on their campaigns to get re-elected. They worked late into August, which is unusual, and may work into October, but the siren call of Nov. 7 is a haunting one.

This Congress, whose two-year term will end in early 2007 as the 110th Congress reorganizes, has passed about 280 laws so far, and astonishingly 64 of them, or about 25 percent of all the legislation done by Congress, has involved naming post office buildings in member?s districts and states. What they haven?t done is consider more than a dozen worthy numismatic bills that have been pending, in some cases going back many years.

Bills introduced by congressmen and senators expire at the end of each Congress, so they are technically new and not holdovers, but some legislative initiatives are introduced year after year, Congress after Congress, and still fall on deaf ears ? despite promises made to the contrary by some powerful people.

To be sure, the 109th Congress has had some numismatic bills passed; the new non-circulating, legal-tender commemoratives for the old San Francisco Mint restoration is pre-eminent here ? and so is the law passed in April to award a congressional gold medal on behalf of the Tuskegee Airmen, collectively, in recognition of their unique military record, which inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces.

But here?s a partial list of what has been left behind and some older accomplishments ? for the 109th Congress will be left to the dustbin of history shortly as 435 members of the House face re-election, together with a full third of the Senate.

From the standpoint of numismatic legislation, the 109th Congress has been busy and indeed, may have been the most productive Congress in the field in over 125 years. It is probably a fair assessment that not since the Coinage Act of 1873 fundamentally redid and codified American coinage law has one Congress done so much.

In the short span of just a few months, a Presidential dollar coin continuity program that will last at least 10 years was instituted. So, too, a gold First Lady bullion coin program of comparable duration was authorized.

A one-year series of five new one- cent coins were approved for the Lincoln bicentennial in 2009, even as the cent is threatened with extinction because the cost to produce plus the metal costs exceeds face value. Commemorative coinage was also approved for issuance this year (the San Francisco Old Mint and centennial anniversary of the 1906 earthquake) and into the future (Braille bicentennia and Little Rock integration 50th anniversary).

But what was left on the table, undone or at least unfinished, will become the compelling issue in the Senate Banking committee and the House Financial Services committee, which handle numismatic matters.

In the House, the 109th Congress marks the last hurrah for Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, who has chaired the committee for six years and has announced his retirement at the end of the second session. It also marks the retirement of Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., a tireless champion of eliminating the one-cent coin and ?rounding? legislation.

In the Senate, there is a sense of promises made, promises unkept ? and perhaps also a need to remind the mint that artistic infusion came about after the Senate Banking committee held hearings on the subject in 2000.

A bill to require the secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory passed the House July 12, 2005, and is before the Senate Banking Committee, which still has taken no action.

Another bill, S. 863, to require the secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of the centenary of the bestowal of the Noble Peace Prize on President Theodore Roosevelt, passed the Senate Dec. 22 and was referred to the House, which has yet to take it up.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., a six-term member who chairs the Government Reform committee and serves on Homeland Security, introduced H.R. 1047, a bill to require the secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of the tragic loss of lives at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and to support construction of the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial in Arlington, Va.

That same day, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a seven-term member and former chair of the House coinage subcommittee, introduced H.R. 1057, to award a congressional gold medal on behalf of all government workers and others who responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and perished.

It also calls for the medal to be awarded to people aboard United Airlines Flight 93 who helped resist the hijackers and caused the plane to crash. In addition, the Mint would be asked to award a duplicate in silver of such gold medals to the personal representative of each such deceased person.

The last section of King?s bill would require the secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of the Spirit of America, recognizing the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, and for other purposes.

That could come up on the September legislative calendar, along with S. 2784, which passed the Senate and is now pending in the House to give a Congressional gold medal to the 14th Dalai Lama; or H.R. 4902, which passed the House and is pending before the Senate to similarly honor golf great Byron Nelson.

Another pending bill: S. 633 (House counterpart H.R. 1951), the American Veterans Disabled for Life Commemorative Coin Act, which has passed the Senate and awaits the solon?s verdict in the House as to whether America?s disabled veterans are worthy of their own commemorative coin.

And still another for which time is running out is the Abraham Lincoln Commemorative Coin Act, which has passed the Senate and awaits consideration in the House, for a silver dollar commemorative honoring the Great Emancipator?s bicentennial birthday in 2009.

There is another bill, H.R. 3885, known as the District of Columbia and United States Territories Circulating Quarter Dollar Program Act, which was not introduced until late in the session. Its aim: to complete the 50 state quarter program with quarters honoring Washington, D.C., and five insular trust territories.

Sponsored by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., and most of the trust territory representatives, the coins would be struck for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands and American Virgin Islands.

The bill would add an 11th year to the existing 10-year quarter program, currently slated to terminate in 2008. Six additional coins would be struck the following year, presumably at the rate of about one every eight weeks, compared to the rate now employed of approximately one every 10 weeks.

For those who don?t remember the historical details, the state quarter program emerged from a concept advanced by the Citizens Commemorative Coin Advisory Committee in 1993-1994, refined at a hearing of the House coinage subcommittee in 1995, and thereafter several different congressional laws passed to first study the project, then implement.

Among early objectors were the elected representatives of the five insular territories ? Guam, American Samoa, American Virgin Islands, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands ? plus Washington, D.C. Their non-voting delegates in Congress spoke up in debate and were promised consideration at a later point in time, after passage.

Issuance of these coins was promised by Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., when he was chairman of the House coinage subcommittee, and Rep. James A.S. Leach, when he chaired the House Banking Committee. This took place when the 50 state quarter legislative proposal was still under consideration in 1997. The promise has been unrequited.

Holmes-Norton introduced her own legislation in 1999, after Castle?s bill had already been enacted. Castle had pledged his support for the add on of America?s trust territories, but had stepped down as a committee chair.

His successor, Rep. Spencer Bacchus, R-Ala., according to Holmes-Norton in a statement on the House floor, ?pledged. full support and cooperation in helping with this effort,? but that legislation went nowhere. The leadership move behind this bill seems to assure its ultimate success.

Legislation to do this has passed the House on three separate occasions, sometimes by direct vote. But it has repeatedly gotten bogged down in the Senate ? actually, it has not been considered at all. Whether this gets action this year is dependent on whether there is a motivating factor in the Senate.

But with a new Presidential coin program and first lady series, time may be running out on adding six more coins to the most successful continuity program in direct marketing history ? one that has added 139 million collectors of coin to the national data base.

There are some other bills that have not yet received action or consideration. among them:

  • H.R. 932, the Ronald Reagan Commemorative Coin Act of 2005.
  • H.R. 2050, Old Man of the Mountain Commemorative Coin Act. The mountain face collapsed in the interim.
  • H.R. 762, Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefields Commemorative Coin Act of 2005.
  • H.R. 988 and S. 1639, two bills with a common purpose: National Park Anniversaries-Great American Spaces Commemorative Coin Act.
  • S. 1175, Robert M. La Follette, Sr. Commemorative Coin Act.
  • H.R. 1433, Thurgood Marshall Commemorative Coin Act.
  • H.R. 1432, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. $1 Coin Act.
  • S. 804, Options for Investors through United States Certified Coins Act of 2005, which is endorsed by the Industry Council for Tangible Assets.
  • H.R. 1057, True American Heroes Act of 2005, commemorating the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
  • H.R. 1717, Korean Immigration Commemorative Coin Act.
  • S. 959 and H.R. 2052, Star-Spangled Banner and War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission Act (Introduced in House), which calls for commemorative coinage to be considered by the commission.
  • H.R. 4402 and S. 2059, Hudson-Fulton-Champlain 400th Commemora-tion Commission Act of 2005, a familiar concept for commemorative coin buffs.

All of these, except as noted, are still within committee awaiting approval (or discharge from approval) is required before action can be taken.

A further glitch is that the practice over the last several years is that there is usually only one or two coin bills considered each session, though this year and last there were more. Omnibus legislation is rare, though sometimes successful, such as the Presidential $1 coin bill married to first spouse bullion coin, Lincoln's bicentenary cents and the buffalo or bison gold coin program.

So where it goes depends on how much correspondence is generated by interested constituents and how much interest leadership finds in the subject matter. This will become apparent in the final weeks of the fall sprint that follow.