After some two decades of debate, 2013 might be the year the United States finally moves to the dollar coin. While Americans have never seemed wholly comfortable switching from paper to coin currency, the financials of the move are hard to overlook. According to the Government Accountability Office, a dollar coin would save taxpayers $4.4 billion over 30 years.
"This is the best opportunity [proponents] have had for a transition to the dollar coin," says Aaron Klein, director of the Financial Regulatory Reform Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Klein is a former Treasury Department official and served as chief economist for the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over treasury policy. "The whole zeitgeist of America is huge pressure to fix the deficit. Why wouldn't you hit the low-hanging fruit first?"
A spokeswoman for Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, who introduced legislation with GOP Sen. John McCain for a dollar coin in January 2012, says he intends to "move this forward" in the new Congress.
"[He] continues to believe the time has come to advance this policy," Harkin spokeswoman Kate Frischmann says.
The dollar coin may be included in a broader budget package in 2013, and legislation is expected to be reintroduced in the House and Senate.
The dollar coin also just received a bump of support from the an important group in Washington: the Domenici-Rivlin Debt Reduction Task Force, which is chaired by former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin, director of the Office of Management and Budget under the Clinton administration. The bipartisan group's recent proposal on federal debt reduction included a recommendation to move to the dollar coin.
The rising support for the dollar coin may have something to do with the Dollar Coin Alliance, a coalition of businesses, budget watchdogs, and trade associations who have been vocal in Washington about ditching the paper note. The alliance is led by former Arizona Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe, who first started pushing for the dollar coin when he was in Congress in the 1980s.
"The U.S. is the largest major developed country in the world with a currency in paper as low as $1," Kolbe says. (Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have all made the switch to the dollar coin.) "People initially say 'I don't want to change,' but once they learn the savings, they say, 'Yeah, this does make sense.'"
The antagonist to the Dollar Coin Alliance was once "Americans for George," a group backed by Crane & Co., the Massachusetts-based company that supplies paper for the American dollar note. A spokesman for Crane & Co. said the company did not want to talk on record until new legislation for a dollar coin is introduced.
But Americans for George has since disbanded, along with a similar group called "Save the Greenback."
With few detractors left and a tough budget fight ahead, supporters of the coin believe 2013 could be its year.
"The impetus for fixing our debt and deficit is incredibly high," Klein says. "In my opinion, this is the easiest choice to make."