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Use commemorative coins to pay down deficit, lawmakers suggest

September 25, 2012|By Richard Simon | This post has been corrected, as indicated below.
  • This photo shows the back of a commemorative silver dollar coin honoring the Girl Scouts. Under proposed legislation, any proceeds from coin sales would go toward deficit reduction.
This photo shows the back of a commemorative silver dollar coin honoring… (United States Mint / Associated…)

WASHINGTON -- Congress is considering commemorative coins to honor the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Mark Twain and the centennial of Mother’s Day. Now a group of lawmakers wants some change.

Specifically, they want some of proceeds from the coin sales to help erase Washington’s red ink. They contend that commemorative coins are being used to circumvent the congressional ban on lawmakers earmarking funds for pet projects.

Under their legislation, Congress could still issue commemorative coins, but any proceeds – after paying for the coin’s production – would go to deficit reduction "instead of becoming a money-maker for private entities," said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), chief sponsor of a Senate bill.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who’s sponsoring a similar bill in the House, said in a recent letter to colleagues: "Congress shouldn’t use commemorative coins to fundraise for private groups."

Since 1982, the coins have generated more than $418 million to private organizations, according to DeMint. "If organizations wish to raise money for worthy causes, there are many ways available without the use of taxpayer resources," he said. 

Proponents of the coins say they cost taxpayers nothing.

A Star-Spangled Banner commemorative coin authorized by Congress in 2010 is helping to fund War of 1812 bicentennial activities in Maryland.

Under legislation awaiting a final House vote, a chunk of the proceeds from sales of a Mark Twain coin would go to organizations dedicated to preserving the author’s legacy, such as the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Mo.

And last month President Obama signed the National Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin Act ordering the minting of as many as 50,000 $5 gold coins, sold for $35 apiece, as many as 400,000 $1 silver coins, sold for $10, and as many as 750,000 half-dollar coins, sold for $5.

A spokesman for the nonprofit Cooperstown, N.Y., hall of fame said the projected $2 million to $3 million from coin sales would support its educational mission.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who’s sponsoring legislation to create a coin to commemorate the centennial of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco and the opening of the Panama Canal, said coin bills are vetted by committees.

"If members of Congress have concerns about a coin bill and the way the revenue it generates supports a cause, they already have ample opportunities to raise those concerns and oppose the passage of the bill," he said.

"In the case of the Panama-Pacific coin bill, the causes that will benefit from the revenue are the restoration of the old U.S. Mint in San Francisco and the preservation of President Theodore Roosevelt’s home, both of which have clear federal ties," he added.

The conservative Heritage Foundation's sister organization, Heritage Action, noted in its blog that the coins are "yet another element of a government that has grown too large" and "how an organization with Washington savvy can use the government in their favor."

[For the record, Sept. 26, 10:48 a.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly spelled the last name of Rep. Justin Amash as Amish.]

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richard.simon@latimes.com

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