Congress Holds The Real Coinage Power, When it’s Interested
From the Memory Bank: Powerful chairmen of oversight committees can sway coinage matters
This article From the Memory Bank series was first published online November 10, 2016 and in the December 21, 2016 issue of Coin World available here.
While presidential candidates garner most of the headlines every four years, the elections that most affect the numismatic community are in the House of Representatives and the Senate, most specifically the party that controls each chamber and the committees of jurisdiction.
Republican presidents occupied the White House throughout the decade of the 1980s and into the early 1990s, but Democrats controlled the House and held sway over committees and subcommittees.
When I joined Coin World in 1981, Rep. Frank D. Annunzio, D-Ill., was chairman of the House Banking Subcommittee on Coinage and Consumer Affairs, which had oversight jurisdiction over the U.S. Mint and all matters pertaining to coinage.
Annunzio and his staff kept a close watch on the U.S. Mint and did not hesitate to call Treasury officials before the subcommittee to get answers. Early in the battle over control of marketing of the modern commemorative coin program, Annunzio emerged as the champion of collectors and consumer rights. He wielded so much power he was known as the “Coin Czar.”
Coin World’s staff kept in close contact with Annunzio’s office as we tracked and reported the various bills having to do with coinage matters. Thus, when I became editor in early 1985, one of the first trips I scheduled was to Washington, D.C., to meet personally with Chairman Annunzio and to do an interview.
At the time, I gave little thought to the fact that interviewing the House Banking subcommittee chairman would become a tradition.
When Annunzio left the subcommittee to take the chairmanship of a major committee in 1989 at the beginning of the 101st Congress, Rep. Richard H. Lehman, D-Calif., became chairman of the coinage subcommittee. Shortly after the new Congress began work, I was off to the nation’s capital to interview Lehman.
In contrast to Annunzio, who had been fully engaged with coinage matters, Lehman seemed uncomfortable and disinterested with the coinage part of the job. At first opportunity — the next Congress (two years later) — he moved on to another committee assignment.
The Democrats still held a majority in the House when the 102nd Congress convened in January 1991 and another Californian, Rep. Esteban E. Torres, ascended to the subcommittee chairmanship.
Torres and his staff were gracious with their time during my first interview with him in May of 1991. In fact, they had almost as many questions for me as I did for him during our three-hour meeting. It was obvious Chairman Torres was interested in the subcommittee’s work, particularly coinage. But more impressive, he was keen to learn about the collector community’s perspective.