As everyone knows, the way to get people to use dollar coins would be to stop printing $1 bills. This, apparently, would save the federal government a considerable sum since coins last a long time, and $1 bills have a very brief lifespan. The question, then, is why this new presidential coin plan? Coverage of the new coins tends to start with a lot of talk about the Mint doing, thinking, or hoping this or that as if the US Mint is for some reason being run by people who don't understand coins and don't understand that the $1 coin is doomed as long as the $1 bill lives. Deeper in, though, you learn that "The coins were authorized by the 2005 Presidential Coin Act, which requires the minting of dollar coins commemorating the service of former United States presidents in the order in which they served."
In other words, it wasn't the mint's idea at all -- it came from congress. But why would congress pass a law like that? Well, I have some familiarity with this topic and my understanding is that, in essence, the idea was being pushed by mining interests hoping to sell the government some more of their metal. They hired some lobbyists, the North Dakota delegation and Ben Nighthorse Campbell put up an ultimately successful fight to secure the long-term future of the Sacagewa Dollar, and ta-da! your presidential commemorative coins will be here shortly. Similarly, it's the zinc (or something) lobby that keeps the penny in existence. Only in America.
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