Mark Twain’s Commemorative Coin

Lobbyists are quite pleased that their efforts to get the Mark Twain Commemorative Coin Act passed in Congress have succeeded, according to The Hill.  Now, the bill is headed to President Obama’s desk for his signature.

The sale of these coins is expected to bring in about $7 million, which will be split evenly between four historical sites in the U.S. connected with Mark Twain.  The money to fund this project will come from the U.S. Treasury, but will be reimbursed in full as the coins are sold.

We have no gripe with Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, rest assured.  We don’t even have a problem with various historical sites raising $7 million so that they can stay open and honor the legacy of Mark Twain.

But here’s the problem.  Members of Congress use commemorative coins to get around the earmark ban and fund pet projects that benefit their home states and districts (and hence help win them votes).  As Heritage explains, “The bills are passed by bipartisan majorities, because it’s pretty difficult to vote against a Mother’s Day or March of Dimes commemorative coin.”  The same goes for a coin representing a legendary Mark Twain and various historic sites associated with his legacy.

As nice as supporting these causes sounds, it simply not the federal government’s job to be in the business of fundraising for private groups in one particular state or another.

As conservatives, we believe in limited government.  Fundraising for pet projects does not fit the definition of limited government by any stretch of the imagination.  Members of Congress should be busy fulfilling their true duties to the American people, required of them by the Constitution and the law, you know, like passing a budget, something that would actually help reduce our nation’s deficit and debt.

Heritage explains:

“While the commemorative coin process does not run afoul of the official earmark ban, the obvious implications are that Congressmen are using a decades-old tactic to send special preferences to private organizations in their districts.”

For now, though, it seems that commemorative coins won’t be nixed any time soon.  The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent in September and the House voted 370-19 in favor of the handout this week.  All this for a man who is reputed to have said, “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself. “

Some lawmakers don’t fall into that category, though. Representatives Justin Amash (R-MI) and Jeff Duncan (R-SC), and Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) have offered legislation, called the Commemorative Coin Reform Act (H.R. 6495 / S.3612), which would direct any funds raised from the surcharge to reimburse the Treasury Department for producing the coin, and anything left over would be used for deficit reduction.

So at least while lawmakers are busy not passing a budget, they will be able to contribute in some small way to reducing the deficit by making commemorative coins.  Of course, we’re not implying this is a sufficient alternative, but we welcome the changes that the Commemorative Coin Reform Act would bring.  It’s a step in the right direction.

Heritage Action opposes commemorative coins just as we oppose earmarks, because, as Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) once explained, “for all intents and purposes, this is an earmark. And it’s far beyond the proper scope of the federal government to act as a sales agent for a private group.”

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