Senators Want to Replace Dollar Bill with $1 Coin to Attack Debt and Deficit

By Thomas Cloud | February 6, 2012 | 5:04 PM EST

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.)

( -  Three conservative Republican senators and one liberal Democrat want to completely replace the one dollar bill with a one dollar coin as a means of bringing down the deficit -- and the national debt.

Sens. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have teamed up to throw their weight behind the Currency Optimization, Innovation, and National Savings (COINS) Act, which was originally introduced last November by Rep. Dave Schweikert (R-Ariz.).

“Change can be difficult, but changing to more change could really result in savings for our deficit-strapped government,” Enzi said in a news release about the COINS Act.

Change would be difficult. According to a poll conducted in October by LuntzGlobal, the American public greatly prefers dollar bills to dollar coins -- with 97 percent saying that paper currency is more convenient than coins.

The same poll shows that only 17 percent supported eliminating the dollar bill and this after they were told it would save the government money.

Enzi, however, argues that switching from dollar bills to dollar coins could save taxpayers up to $500 million yearly. However, half-a-billion dollars is less than one half of one-thousandth of the federal deficit, currently $1.1 trillion, based on the most recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) information.

The impact would be even less on the national debt. According to the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Public Debt, the national debt – to the penny -- stands at  $15,335,108,283,338.57 ($15.3 trillion).

In 2011, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated that the government would save about $5.5 billion dollars in interest over the next 30 years if the dollar coin completely replaced the dollar bill.

Daniel Head, press secretary for Enzi, said that with debt talks stalled, the senator sees this as one very small way to chip away at the debt.

“This is just one very small very simple idea he’s put forward,” Head said. “I don’t think as many people have it in their head how bad our debt crisis is.”

Head said Enzi thinks that the idea will gain popularity as concerns about the debt increase.

Past attempts to introduce dollar coins, however, have been mixed.

In 2011, the Federal Reserve reported that an estimated 1.4 billion dollar coins were sitting unused on its shelves. In response, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner ordered an immediate halt in December to minting one dollar presidential coins for circulation.

“The steps we're announcing today will save at least $50 million annually over the next several years. That's the right decision for taxpayers. And going forward, we'll continue our work to identify additional opportunities to support President Obama's critical objective to cut waste and improve efficiency across government,” Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Neal Wolin wrote in a Dec. 13 post on the Treasury Web site about Geithner’s decision.

Under the 2005 Presidential One Dollar Coin Act, the U.S. Mint must issue four new presidential coins every year from 2007 to 2016 as part of a series commemorating every deceased president.

The Presidential One Dollar Coin Act is the latest incarnation of the dollar coin, the previous two being the Sacagawea dollar coin and the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin. Small amounts of commemorative presidential coins will still be minted in compliance with the law.

Dollar coins are not new and switching to a dollar coin is not unprecedented. Since its inception, the euro has relied on a one euro coin as opposed to a one euro bill.