Lobbyists Press for US Dollar Coin, Despite Public Resistance

March 24,2015

With America's national debt continuing to climb, Congress is constantly debating ways to save money. The Dollar Coin Alliance, a lobbying group, says billions could be saved if dollar coins were used instead of paper bills.

But many people won't use them. The U.S. government tried to push dollar coins again in recent years, but then suspended almost all production in 2011.

American likes paper dollars, but Jim Kolbe, co-chairman of the Dollar Coin Alliance, thinks switching to the coin is worth it.

“The coin does cost more to produce, roughly on the neighborhood of 17 cents versus the 5 or 6 cents that a paper dollar costs to produce," he said. "However, the coin lasts 35 years, and it’s made of mostly recycled metals, and the paper has to be produced from new materials, and we shred 3 billion of those every year because they wear out.”

For years, the former Arizona congressman has been pushing legislation that would prop up the dollar coin by phasing out the greenback — a move that has met resistance from both politicians and the public. But today, he said, the climate has changed, and a recent poll indicates 61 percent of Americans like the idea.

“When they learn of the savings that can be involved with this, [they] will support the idea of substituting the coin for the paper dollar,” he said.

Major savings

Kolbe points to a study by the Government Accountability Office, which investigates how the government spends taxpayer dollars. The GAO estimates taxpayers would save more than $4 billion over 30 years, and that figure could be much higher. That appeals to taxpayer Christy Thompson, who said, “I’d probably say, yes, we need to do it.”

But plenty of people aren't convinced, including Kim Doering of Alexandria, Virginia.

“It’s easier to carry the paper bill than a bunch of coins. They’re louder; they’re heavier in your pocket,” she said.

Washington, D.C. restaurant owner Sue Fouladi doesn’t like the idea of having more dollar coins in her cash register.

"It’s very inconvenient," she said. "If I don’t have a choice, then I’ll do it, but I’ll be a very unhappy person.”

Adding to the problem is that the gold- and silver-colored metal coins are about the same size as the 25-cent quarter. Robert Blecker, an economics professor at American University in Washington, says the dollar coins should be a different size and thickness.

“And if we can design a dollar coin that’s not so big and bulky, probably Americans would like it better,” he added.

But that doesn’t bother college student Emily Sturgill.

“Sometimes they fit into your pocket easily and you don’t have to worry about them slipping out, like a dollar [bill] would if you brought your keys or your phone out,” she said.

Eliminate the choice

Both Kolbe and Blecker agree that widespread usage won’t happen easily.

"We will never give up the bill until it's abolished and we have no choice but to use the coins," Blecker said.

That’s what happened in other countries, like Canada, Blecker said, where the public now takes one- and two-dollar coins for granted. He thinks the American public would get used to the U.S. dollar coin.

"I guess I would, but I wouldn’t like it at first," said Doering. Thompson is more optimistic: “If we were just circulating the dollar coins, you would get used to it.”

But stacks of the coins are piled in government vaults, instead of in American pockets.