It may seem like a literal dollop, or perhaps a mere dollar in the bucket to reduce government spending. But the recent decision by the Obama administration to all but cancel production of the widely ignored presidential coin series is expected to save taxpayers an estimated $50 million a year, or as the Wall Street Journal calculated, about 15 minutes of the federal debt. The journey to pare down a $15 trillion debt could begin with eight bits of Benjamin Harrison.
Dollar coins have never been popular with the public. Efforts to wean people off paper currency to use the Susan B. Anthony or Sacagawea dollar coins were miserable failures. "And as it will shock you all, the call for Chester A. Arthur coins is not there," quipped Vice President Joe Biden, alluding to the 21st president. Since 2005, when Congress ordered the U.S. Mint to begin producing presidential dollar coins, 40 percent of the currency has been returned pretty much unused to the Federal Reserve, which has an estimated $1.4 billion in surplus dollar coins in its vaults.
Critics of the plan to reduce the presidential coin production argue it only costs 18 cents to mint the currency and the coins last longer than paper dollars. But unlike other ill-conceived government programs that refuse to die, the Obama administration is taking the common sense approach to modify a federal initiative that appears to have such meager public support.
The U.S. Mint will continue to produce limited editions of the presidential coin series for serious collectors. President Arthur is up next to be immortalized. There should be no rush to get in line.