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The congressional politics of pennies, also nickels

Much of the news these days concerns people who already hold elective office but want to hold another one. Those guys and gal are senators.

This item concerns representatives who, everybody knows, aren't worth as much. For one thing, there's a lot more of them. And appaA bunch of pennies like the ones some congressmen are spending a lot of to dictate to the U.S. Mint how to make penniesrently with the recent resolutions of the nation's economic and housing crises, rising gas prices, educational quality, Iraq war, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the Myanmar cyclone, food price problems and shortages of rice, there isn't much for these representatives to do these warming spring days in the nation's capital.

So here's a quick update on the labors of some of those elected officials left behind in Washington to take care of the nation's pressing business.

There's a whole bunch of congressmen spending a whole bunch of their time and our money dictating exactly how the U.S. Mint should go about making U.S. coins. Isn't that what the U.S. Mint was minted to do?

America's Great Penny Crisis moved one step closer to resolution (of sorts) this week, when the House passed a bill to....

...change the metallic composition of the one-cent coin. We've all been waiting for this one.

Supporters of the measure, approved by voice vote, say it will save taxpayers more than $1 billion in production costs over the next decade by allowing the U.S. Mint to switch to less-expensive metals.

It currently costs 1.7 cents to produce every penny and 10 cents for every nickel, which is the kind of economic thinking that makes sense in Washington.

The bill also would require the mint to begin churning out a primarily steel penny within 270 days of it becoming law.

It takes two nickels to make one nickel and they think that makes sense in the District of Columbia

Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio) sponsored the bill. But two Illinois congressmen had roles in shaping it: Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat who chaired the subcommittee hearings on the bill, and Rep. Peter Roskam, a Republican who sponsored a similar bill last year that this measure mirrored in several respects. Both urged and celebrated the bill's passage.

"If we continue minting coins with the current metal content," Gutierrez said on the House floor this week, "with each new penny and nickel we issue, we will also be contributing to our national debt by almost as much as the coin is worth. These losses are mounting rapidly, and we need to act immediately to lower the costs of producing the penny and the nickel."

Roskam touted the bill's similarity to his penny legislation in a press release. "Congress today took a step in the right direction by reining in one of the billions of dollars in wasteful government spending programs," he said. "Albeit a small step, it marks a common sense solution that will save the hard-earned dollars of Illinois families."

They do love those small steps back there.

Notably opposing the bill was the U.S. Mint, which complained it doesn't give enough power to the Treasury to regulate coin composition and that the 270-day steel-penny window is unrealistically short. Mint Director Edmund Moy called the rest of the bill overly "prescriptive and limiting" in a letter to Congress this week.

A penny for your thoughts on this.

--Jim Tankersley

Jim Tankersley writes for the Swamp of the Chicago Tribune's Washington Bureau.    

Photo Credit: U.S. Mint

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since the president of the current administration, g.w. bush, has perversely declared the constitution of his country to be 'just a goddamn piece of paper,' what's there to expect from him with respect to constitutional fiscal policy? today, the dollar is fiat currency, anyway. monopoly money, created out of thin air, not backed by anything any more but desperate hopes and dreams and memories, and immense profits raked off by a self-declared global 'elite' minority, from millions of people and the future of their children, sold into debt and slavery; and even made to fight for them their constant predatory, murderous private wars; and controlled and manipulated by censorship and use of illegit influence and force.
RON PAUL, the PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE AND FINALIST, proposes to return to constitutional, responsible fiscal politics, with a solid currency backed by hard assets (e.g. gold or silver - checks government spending, inflation and debt passed on as taxes to the people); and controlled by 'we the people,' not private banks/the fraudulent 'federal reserve.' (for those too weary to read up on this - while RON PAUL's expertise on this topic might be advised - there's also plenty of related, perhaps helpful, video footage around, as on youtube and google: e.g. 'the money masters,' 'money as debt,' 'monopoly men'...;
and for better understanding of the context: 'america: freedom to fascism,' 'the war on democracy,' 'the century of self,' and endlessly more...)
note: incidentally, (other) socialist and (corporate) fascist dictatorships with essentially worthless currencies, preferrably issue aluminum coins, or plastic chips etc.

How did seven additional states get ratified? Could you tell us the new States. Obama is only observing 48 states as valid.

This is the most wasteful kind of government spending.
Congress should immediately revalue all pennies and nickels outstanding to 5 cent and 20 cent pieces respectively. If this were done, all those coins in piggy
banks would return to circulation (giving their owners
a little inflation dividend at the same time).
We really don't need a one cent coin anymore and it is
crazy to waste taxpayer funds making them. 99% of all
transactions are checks or creditcards, so the 1 cent
would only exist for accounting purposes. For loose change, round off to the nearest 5 cents, the old penny!

The cost figures mentioned are actually fiscal 2007 costs.

Today's costs have declined somewhat. A penny costs 1.26 cents to make, and a nickel costs 7.7 cents to make.

(on the humorous side: to keep up with all the endeavors to sell out the country, who'd be surprised to see the mint outsourced to asia and become a third world sweat shop next? then the value of the issued coins might even rise - at the exact same rate as that of scrap metal)

If Congress is so concerned about the cost of the penny and nickle,why does the mint still produce the Kennedy half,and the Sacagewea dollar?Now we have HUGE stockpiles of SBA dollars,Sacagewea dollars and now Presidental dollars and still pumping them out.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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