As David Ganz reports and you probably saw on television, the mainstream news media in the form of a ?60 Minutes TV program has taken up the topic of the high cost of producing cents in nickels.
As the program pointed out, the Mint is running a loss on each of these denominations. This information is nothing new to collectors. We have been aware of it since before the Treasury made melting cents and nickels illegal back in December 2006.
The fact that the topic has now risen from the level of the hobby to something that is broadcast to average citizens perhaps means that the topic will move higher on the congressional agenda.
It must be remembered that the Treasury has asked to be given the authority to change coin compositions at will. This made Congress balk at giving up its constitutional powers to the administrative branch of government but it also got caught up in a minor issue where a congressman was trying to do a deal with his colleagues to get an exemption to the coin melting ban regulation granted to a constituent.
That the resulting furore led to no action last year is not surprising. However, priming the pump so to speak with the public by disseminating the cost of production information might just be the opening salvo in the next round in Congress.
Will the Treasury insist on being able to change composition at will, or will it backtrack to suggesting cheaper compositions for the current cent and nickel and settle for that? I don?t know, but it seems to me that the Treasury has better things to do than get into a constitutional dispute with the Congress and the pressing issue of composition should be addressed.
The 60 Minutes story spent some time making the ?cent should be abolished? argument. That is not likely to fly no matter how many facts and cost calculations they come up with.
One question that occurs to me is will this portion of the story shut down all discussion of alternative alloys as merely a stalking horse for abolition, or whether it is a true opening discussion point to get onto the more substantive issue of alternative alloy.
After all, an alternative and cheaper alloy, it can be said, is what it will take to save the cent and nickel denominations.
One thing that is certain is that many nations have been in the same boat over the years as the U.S. Mint finds itself with the cent and nickel. Running losses to keep the denominations in production then gives way to either a cheaper composition or complete abolition of the denomination in question.
What will the Congress eventually choose? I will put my money on alternative composition.
It is an election year. No representative in Congress wants his constituents to go to the polls with the idea that he has acted to take the cent away from the American people. That is not a vote getter.
Nor does someone in Congress want to be tarred with the brush that the government is incurring losses and thereby costing taxpayers money by keeping an expensive coin composition in production. What the new alloys will be becomes the unanswered question.