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Mr. ROSKAM. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume. I am pleased to rise in support of H.R. 5512, the Coin Modernization and Taxpayer Savings Act of 2008.
First, I would like to thank Chairman Frank, Chairman Gutierrez and my colleague from Ohio (Mr. Space) for bringing this important bill to the floor. And I would also like to thank Ranking Member Bachus for his support of my own coin content bill, H.R. 4036, the Cents and Sensibility Act, which I introduced with Mr. Castle of Delaware.
Madam Speaker, last year, I took my son to visit the Denver Mint in Colorado, and there we discovered during our tour that the cost of a penny was--actually what the gentleman from Illinois just referred to--1.7 cents, the cost to the government to make each single penny. And that's obviously more than it's worth. At current production rates, the Federal Government spends more than $134 million to produce eight billion pennies annually at a loss of $54 million to the taxpayer. It makes no sense.
Two years ago last Thursday, when I was not yet a Member of this body, the U.S. Mint sent to Congress a letter stating what my son and I discovered on our trip. And since then, a whole lot of nothing has happened. And I think, frankly, the Mint has been a little bit remiss in not bringing up a thoughtful suggestion on cost cutting. This bill will address the short-term problem of the costly penny and I believe the longer term issues of what circulating coins should be made of.
I've got to say I'm flattered in a way in that there are elements of this bill that have taken some of the elements of the bill that I introduced. So when H.R. 5512 was introduced, this bill, in other words, it was done so with some of the provisions that I was pleased to offer. The most important point is to immediately change the composition of the penny from copper-coated zinc to copper-coated steel. This change would slash the cost to make the penny.
For several years, Canada, our neighbors to the north, have been saving money producing its one cent coin, which is essentially identical to the U.S. penny, out of steel in this manner, originally in the same Tennessee plant in which our penny blanks are made. This provision blends an enormous cost-saving opportunity with ensuring that the content of the penny remains metal and securing American jobs that currently produce the penny.
Two other provisions from my bill are included in H.R. 5512, that is, the provision giving the Mint explicit authority to do research and development with outside firms on potential coin content, an authority that the Mint says now is ambiguous, and this bill takes away that ambiguity. And secondly, requiring regular reports from the Mint to the Congress on production cost trends and strategies to reduce costs, Madam Speaker, either with different content or different production techniques, either one.
These two provisions will ensure that the Mint is performing its due diligence in a timely manner and keeping the cost of production of all circulating coins down while maintaining communication with those who currently are involved in the industry on the production, supply and research sides.
Madam Speaker, without wanting to be overly critical of the Mint, let me just point out that I think that they have not done exactly as I think would be wise as it relates to solving this cost production problem. It sent legislation here proposing to transfer power from Congress to the Mint on the authority to decide what coins should be made of, what they would weigh, authority explicitly held by Congress since the founding of this country.
More recently, the Mint has criticized the bill before us because it would force the Mint to continue making coins out of metal. I don't know about your constituents, Madam Speaker, but I can guess, along with mine, that they're not interested in having coins made out of plastic, and even less enthusiastic if they found out that the decision to switch had been made by a few unelected bureaucrats in a gray building somewhere in Washington, DC. This is our responsibility to make these decisions. And worse, if such a switch were made the wrong way, it could force billions in conversion costs onto coin handlers, vending machines and banks, that would eventually be passed onto customers.
As a Member representing the Land of Lincoln, Madam Speaker, I'm pleased that H.R. 5512 satisfies the need to reduce the cost to taxpayers, retains American jobs, all the while preserving the small one cent coin that has been the foundation of our economic system since its inception.
I urge my colleagues to support the bill.
Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
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