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Coalition Again Attempts to Put Dollar Bill Out of Business

Jukebox operators and copper miners may not have much in common, but they do share a commitment to putting an end to the greenback dollar bill. 

A quirky coalition that includes security giant Brink’s Inc., independent car wash operators and public transportation officials has fired up a decades-old campaign to replace the dollar bill with the dollar coin. 

Many of the same players have been fighting for and against the change for years, but the economic and political climate has given coin supporters new hope.

With lawmakers’ eyes on the federal budget, supporters argue that scrapping the dollar bill is a rare opportunity to cut government spending without political liability. Furthermore, several prominent Democrats who have supported the company that supplies the paper for U.S. bills have lost some of their clout.

The Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve have long opposed making the coin the sole $1 product, citing its weight (just over 8 grams) and the public’s stubborn attachment to paper currency. But Congress can mandate the end of the $1 bill, and the Dollar Coin Alliance is heavily pressuring lawmakers to make the change. The group has spent more than $250,000 lobbying Capitol Hill since December.

“This is very bipartisan,” said Shawn Smeallie, a former aide to President George H.W. Bush and a lobbyist at the American Continental Group who is guiding the campaign. “I think the only issue is one of inertia.” 

The Government Accountability Office reported last month that phasing out the $1 bill could save the government $5.5 billion over the next 30 years. The switch from paper to coin was also included in the 2012 budget proposed by the Republican Study Committee, though it did not make it into the budget resolution passed by the House last week.

GAO argues that the government profits by printing new currency because it costs less to produce than it is worth. But the Fed and the Treasury say that does not amount to real profit that can be counted as budget savings. The departments also noted that the report does not reflect the costs to the banking industry, retailers and others who would have to update their systems and practices if dollar bills were phased out.

Regardless, Smeallie said he expects he will be able persuade a Member to sponsor a bill in the coming weeks. In 2006, then-Rep. Jim Kolbe (R) of Arizona, the country’s largest supplier of copper, introduced a bill that would have done away with the dollar, but it lay dormant in a Financial Services subcommittee. Kolbe, who introduced similar legislation at least five times throughout his career, said the main roadblock was American resistance to change.

“Americans are very conservative when it comes to their currency,” he told Roll Call. “Members of Congress like to shy away from anything controversial that they can. They want to avoid giving constituents something to call and yell about.”

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