McCain Pushes for Dollar Coins to Relieve Military Sequester

The search continues to find more spare change in the government's couch cushions.

Sen. John McCain on Monday urged a switch to dollar coins to help mitigate the effects of the defense sequester.

"At a time when our military is being forced to reduce its ability defend against threats to our security because of sequestration, it makes sense to me that Congress would agree to make common sense steps like the COINS Act to reduce our debt," the Arizona Republican said. "A four year transition from the $1 bill to the $1 coin could result in billions of dollars in real savings that we should all be able to support."

McCain was appearing at an event hosted by Citizens Against Government Waste and the Dollar Coin Alliance to promote bipartisan legislation that he's co-sponsored to phase out the dollar bill in favor of dollar coins. Not surprisingly, he linked it to his push to soften the effect of automatic budget cuts hitting the Defense Department.

Former Rep. Jim Kolbe, also a Republican from Arizona, is the honorary co-chairman of the Dollar Coin Alliance, a mix of budget groups, trade associations, transit agencies and other interested parties.

"As Congress continues to look for ways to reduce the government's deficit, we can’t afford to ignore the $13.8 billion that we’d save through currency reform," Kolbe said. "The dollar coin saves us billions without raising a single tax or cutting a single program."

The Government Accountability Office has long said there would be significant cost savings from the transition, but there's an unending lobbying battle behind the scenes, with paper interests and mining companies taking opposite sides. The same is true of lawmakers protecting home-state business (senators from mining states have long disagreed with those from, say, Massachusetts).

That was the case when Roll Call covered the story back in 2011, with then-Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., calling for the opposite approach, proposed the termination of the program to mint dollar coins.

There's also the argument about how well the public will adjust, a point that Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., said in a Roll Call opinion piece last year.

"Why switch to dollar coins if nobody wants them? Only in Washington would someone propose expanding a government-sponsored social experiment that has already failed so miserably," Connolly wrote.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Rep. Gerald E. Connolly's party.