I don?t ordinarily put a statement from a congressman in the Viewpoint column, but Rep. Ron Paul?s comments written for a March 11 hearing will have many collectors nodding vigorously.
We know that our elected representatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate don?t like being tied up with matters concerning coinage. They are not ?mom and apple pie issues? and they involve boring numbers like weights, diameters and hard stuff like that.
The Congress would rather dodge its homework and speak in grand phrases. Years ago, these matters were essentially delegated to strong committee chairmen and the rest of the body would go right along with it knowing that their esteemed colleague would not cause them any discomfort. In short, stuff got done and most members didn?t have to do homework.
Today conditions seem a little different. There is an obvious difference of opinion between the U.S. Mint and the House subcommittee. There are two pieces of legislation.
One, HR. 3330, delegates authority over coin composition to the Secretary of the Treasury.
The other, H.R. 5512, appears to give him the authority over all circulating coins but the cent, but then binds him hand and foot from actually using this new authority, yet requires him to go through the motions nevertheless.
Part of this is due no doubt to objections from the vending machine industry. Their primary aim is to not spend any money unnecessarily changing their coin discriminator mechanisms.
The cent is is a nonplayer in this area, so the vending machine operators don?t care if it is made of chocolate. Nickels, dimes and quarters are a different story.The half dollar is universally not used and the dollar coin is hit and miss.
That?s why the bill, H.R. 5512, which has the vending industry?s backing, mandates an immediate change to steel in the cent, but mandates five conscutive years of losses before the Treasury can begin to do something about the nickel.
This puts the Treasury and the Mint in an odd situation. On the one hand, with the cent, they are asked to act faster than they can thoughtfully do and on the other they are mandated to act much more slowly. Coin collectors are given a gift in the form of retention of the 95-percent copper alloy collector cent in 2009 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Lincoln?s birth.
Though that gift is an indication that we collectors are noticed and our opinions considered by Congress, I have to wonder if it is put there so we collectors don?t offer any negative opinions about the legislation that contains it.
Paul objects to the bill on constitutional grounds. I will leave that to others. I object on more practical grounds that it seems designed to give the appearance of taking action while its provisions are written to impede any action.
Let?s have more discussion. Let Rep. Paul make his case, let the subcommittee leadership makes its case and let the Treasury make its case. Nothing may change, but then again, a new Congress and a new President might lead to something completely different next year.