Representative Frank Lucas, a Republican who represents Oklahoma’s 3rd District and a coin collector, introduced H.R. 6942 “to provide for the return of the half-dime as the new 5-cent circulating coin.”
The text of the bill is very simple, it calls for the removal of “Paragraph (5) of section 5112(a) of title 31, United States Code” (31 U.S.C. §5112(a)) that describes the current nickel as “a 5-cent coin that is 0.835 inch in diameter and weighs 5 grams.” In its place, the bill calls for “a clad half-dime that is based on the size and shape of the half-dime or 5-cent coin produced in the 1870s.”
If the bill is not buried in committee, more exacting standards will have to be added when it goes through mark-up.
The half-dime that Rep. Lucas refers to are the Liberty Seated half-dimes designed by Christian Gobrecht. Liberty Seated half-dimes were in production from 1837-1873. Those coins weighed 1.34 grams and were 15.5 millimeters (0.610 inch) in diameter with reeded edges. Half-dimes of that era were struck in .900 silver and .100 copper.
Shield Nickels, designed by James B. Longacre, were put into circulation in 1866 using the .750 copper and .250 nickel composition still in use today.
The purpose of the bill is aimed at lowering the price to strike 5-cent coins so that their production does not cost more than their face value. In this case, rather than a 5-gram coin that is .750 copper and .250 nickel whose metal values are approximately $0.0477 (based on the market close as of September 19), it would be a smaller coin made with .9167 copper and .0833 nickel—clad coinage is a .750 copper and .250 nickel cover around a pure copper core. The metal value of the new coin would be $0.0146, or approximately 70-percent less than the current coin in the cost of metals.
As with any change to our change, there will be resistance. Aside from the social impact, the most significant resistance could come from the vending machine operators who would have to worry about accepting the new coins. Banks and coin counting services could complain about the increased cost in handling a new coin type.
H.R. 6942 has little chance of passing, regardless of any merits. It was introduced on September 18, 2008, with no co-sponsors and referred to the House Financial Service Committee. The introduction came during a week that congress was asked to approve a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry.
Congress is scheduled to go into recess on September 26 so that members can conduct their campaigns. They will not return to Washington until after the November election. At that time, the lame duck congress will have to resolve any budget issues not passed before the fall recess. I doubt any “non-essential” bill will be considered before the final adjournment of the 110th Congress.