Reagan Tribute Efforts Right on the Money

Posted June 7, 2004 at 7:06pm

Congressional Republicans are turning to dollars and cents to pay tribute to President Ronald Reagan, with several lawmakers drafting bills that would place his image on at least three different bank notes and coins.

Competing proposals will be offered today in the House to place Reagan’s likeness on the $20 bill and the half dollar, displacing two other presidents in favor of the man widely credited with ending the Cold War.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) is advocating that Reagan replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, while Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) is promoting the idea that Reagan bump President John Kennedy (D-Mass.) from the half dollar.

Both lawmakers were actively seeking co-sponsors Monday for their respective bills.

Across the Capitol, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will offer legislation to put Reagan’s portrait on the $10 bill in place of Alexander Hamilton “at the appropriate time,” according to a statement released by his press secretary. Hamilton served as the country’s first Treasury secretary.

“It is no strike against Old Hickory, but we think the Gipper deserves a place on American currency,” said Rohrabacher spokesman Aaron Lewis.

Miller spokesman Dan McFaul said the Florida Republican was likewise offering no disrespect to Kennedy, but simply thought it was time to honor Reagan.

The idea of placing Reagan’s image on currency crested late last year when Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) introduced a bill to replace President Franklin Roosevelt with Reagan’s image on the dime. It sparked a push back by Democrats to keep FDR on the coin and forced Reagan’s wife, Nancy, to disavow the idea.

But Grover Norquist, president of the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, said he thinks there will be renewed momentum now to place Reagan’s likeness on American currency and predicted that when it happens, the Reagan family will support it.

“Nancy Reagan does not want to be perceived as a Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis out there demanding all of these honors for her husband,” said Norquist, who added, “She is pleased when the country honors her husband, but wants to make it clear she is not behind it.”

Norquist’s group is working to name “significant public landmarks” in each state and more than 3,000 counties across the country.

Of the proposals expected to be introduced, the plan to remove Kennedy’s image could face the stiffest opposition. The late president’s brother is Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and his nephew is Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.).

“Having a living member of the Kennedy family in a prominent role on the Senate side is an assured death sentence of any effort to remove JFK from the 50 cent piece,” said a House Republican aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Even efforts to remove Hamilton, who never served as president, in favor of Reagan could face problems.

“I have got a ten spot that tells me there is going to be a lot of concern about this within the Senate Democratic Caucus,” said a senior Democratic Senate aide.

In addition to trying to put Reagan’s likeness on American currency, Republican Senators are expected to consider other legislative ways to pay homage to the architect of the modern Republican Party’s revival. Among the ideas likely to be discussed today is a commemorative coin, stamp or possibly a medal that would be presented to individuals who champion international freedom.

“This is clearly an important opportunity for us as Republicans, many of whom are in a sense living legacies of Reagan,” said a GOP leadership aide involved in preliminary discussions on the matter. “We are trying to think through the different ways we can make Reagan relevant, not just this week but in the weeks to come.”

But a senior GOP aide acknowledged the sensitivity of the situation and said there would be an effort by the Republican leadership not to appear as though they are trying to capitalize on Reagan’s recent passing.