This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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Congress returned to session Sept. 13 after an interrupted summer recess.
Some numismatic work is anticipated before the final recess but the schedule is tight, with about two weeks to do the nation’s business before adjourning for “silly season,” the congressional election that takes place Nov. 2.
It is expected to then come back for a lame duck session before adjourning for the year.
The new 112th Congress will convene in January.
Remnants of what the current 111th Congress failed to achieve – bills that were introduced, bills that passed one house of Congress but not the other – all expire when the dying embers of this legislative session are extinguished, probably just before Thanksgiving.
First the accomplishments:
• H.R.621 : Girl Scouts USA Centennial Commemorative Coin Act sponsor: Rep. Jack Kingston, Ga., (introduced 1/21/2009), cosponsors (304). Became Public Law No: 111-86.
• H.R.1209: Medal of Honor Commemorative Coin Act of 2009, sponsor: Rep. Christopher P. Carney, Pa., (introduced 2/26/2009), cosponsors (302). Became Public Law No: 111-91.
• H.R.2097: Star-Spangled Banner Commemorative Coin Act, sponsor: Rep. C.A. Ruppersberger, Md., (introduced 4/23/2009), cosponsors (296). Became Public Law No: 111-232.
• H.R.1243: To provide for the award of a gold medal on behalf of Congress to Arnold Palmer in recognition of his service to the nation in promoting excellence and good sportsmanship in golf. Sponsor: Rep Joe Baca, Calif., (introduced 3/2/2009), Cosponsors (302). Became Public Law No: 111-65
• H.R.2245: New Frontier Congressional Gold Medal Act, sponsor: Rep. Alan Grayson, Fla., (introduced 5/5/2009), cosponsors (298). Became Public Law No: 111-44.
• H.R.4684: National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum Commemorative Medal Act of 2010, sponsor: Rep Jerrold Nadler, N.Y., (introduced 2/24/2010), cosponsors (314), Became Public Law No: 111-221.
• S.614 : A bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP), sponsor: Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas, (introduced 3/17/2009), cosponsors (75). Became Public Law No: 111-40
That record for this two-year Congress is about typical for coins and medals bills. But the question is whether there is room for more. Maybe.
Here are some of the coin and medal bills pending.
• H.R.255: NASA 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act
• H.R.1177: Five-Star Generals Commemorative Coin Act (passed House, pending in Senate)
• H.R.1195: Mark Twain Commemorative Coin Act (similar bill pending in Senate)
• H.R.2001: Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefields Commemorative Coin Act of 2009
• H.R.2123: 1863 Gettysburg Campaign Act
• H.R.2318: Robert M. La Follette Sr. Commemorative Coin Act (Perhaps popular in Wisconsin, but who else remembers?)
• H.R.2421: Mother’s Day Centennial Commemorative Coin Act (passed House, in Senate)
• H.R.2799: United States Marshals Service 225th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act
• H.R.3464 : National Future Farmers of America Commemorative Coin Act of 2009 (Endorsed by the American Numismatic Association)
• H.R.3912: International Civil Rights Center and Museum Commemorative Coin Act
• H.R.4329: James Monroe Commem-orative Coin Act
• H.R.3405: To authorize the production of Saint-Gaudens double eagle ultra-high relief bullion coins in palladium to provide affordable opportunities for investments in precious metals and for other purposes.
Most of the coin bills call for a silver dollar; some seek a gold $5 commemorative and a copper-nickel half dollar as well. All have the standard surcharge that benefits some organization and require the design to be reviewed by the Commission of Fine Arts, the Citizens Coin Advisory Committee, and the Treasury secretary (who has in turn delegated it to the Mint).
No one is quite sure where these bills will go, especially since Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee has a stake in some of them. But restoring the nation’s financial system is his top priority – so much so that he has taken himself out of the re-election mix by retiring after five terms (30 years of service).
In the House, where most commemorative coin bills now originate since they have become revenue measures, the key is two committees – not one – Financial Services, chaired by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Ways and Means, where Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., has taken a leave of absence as committee chair because, among other things, there are claims that the head of the nation’s tax-writing committee was less than stellar in handling his own tax return.
The health care vote on March 21, wound up having a profound effect on numismatics. Its section 9006 has a provision adding a requirement that a 1099 form be given by dealers who buy from the public in quantities of more than $600 a year. This applies to all businesses, not just in the coin industry.
And the component after that is that Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., is planning on introducing legislation that will have a significant impact on the coin industry by requiring disclosure by those who sell coins to customers positing it as an investment. The requirements of early drafts seem onerous and would impact many allied industries.
The Industry Council for Tangible Assets, the Professional Numismatists Guild and the American Numismatic Association are involved with that one. The jewelry industry, those who sell coins as ephemera, and others may well add to pressure once they see what the legislation targets.
Hearings are likely to be scheduled before the Commerce subcommittee on technology sometime in late September.
Unlike other legislation, a coin or medal bill under the Rules of the Senate and the House, must have a super majority of vote – 67 in the senate and two-thirds of 435 members of the House or 290 congressmen – before it is placed on the voting calendar. Requiring this high number of co-sponsors can be daunting.
The rules of the game changed Aug. 6 with the addition of Public Law 111-221. The National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum Commemorative Medal Act marks the first time that Congress has tried to make a national medal into a pseudo-coin, a medal with coin-like attributes, but no legal tender status.
The legislation unusually provides that “The medals struck under this act shall be made available for sale in the quality comparable to proof coins,” another first, and perhaps outside the technology comfort of the Mint. A one-ounce medal in silver is likely to be about 40.6 mm in size, which is larger than the old silver dollar (38.1mm) and identical in size to the silver American Eagle.
If demand happens to be high for this medal, it could add to the Mint’s current problems in obtaining its one-ounce silver blanks. Production of the proof silver American Eagle was suspended in 2009 because of the shortage of one-ounce blanks and the 2010 proof silver American Eagle has not yet been given a go-ahead for the same reason.
They have added a surcharge to the program while also limiting the number of medals produced to two million. Because of the Mint’s accounting procedures, it is likely that the one-ounce silver medals will bear an actual production cost far exceeding one-ounce silver bullion coins also made by the Mint.
The Congressional Research Service said that the “National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum Commemorative Medal Act of 2009 directs the secretary of the Treasury to strike and make available for sale not more than two million silver national medals, containing one ounce of silver each.
The law authorizing these medals also “Declares that all sales of medals under this Act shall include a surcharge of $10 per medal, which shall be paid to the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center to support its operations and maintenance.”
If this turns out to be successful – and that will be hard – it will revolutionize the way that commemorative medals are created, and probably affect the way national medals are authorized.
In any event, these measures appear to have stalled out for the time being. But, who knows, as Congress rushes towards adjournment, coin and medal measures have traditionally sneak into the mix. Stay tuned.