WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Mint's new $1 "golden coin" is getting bum reviews on Capitol Hill, where many lawmakers fear a replay of the embarrassing Susan B. Anthony dollar debacle because the Sacagawea coin isn't big or distinctive enough from the quarter.
"That's a dollar?" said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who contended what the Mint bills as "the golden dollar" lacks the heft necessary to represent its worth."Frankly, all of our new money looks like play money, so it's not any different from the new dollar bills with the exaggerated pictures," she said.
While the U.S. Mint unveiled plans to release 200 million of the new coins on the U.S. market in the next week, Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., said the dollar coin "looks like an invitation to confusion to me."
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., pulled an old 11/2-inch cartwheel silver dollar from his pocket as comparison, and declared the Sacagawea coin too puny. "Maybe we'll save a tree. Who knows?" Burns said.
Some of the most scathing comments came from Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, R-Texas, whose panel oversees the Mint.
Gramm claimed the U.S. Mint has engaged in false advertising by calling the coin "the golden dollar," when it doesn't have a grain of gold in it (it is a sandwich of manganese, brass and copper), and running ads picturing the coin with distinctive features, when the minted relief of Sacagawea and a soaring U.S. Eagle don't show up well on the real coin.
"If this was the Franklin Mint, they would be sued for deceptive advertisement," Gramm said. He said the Mint repeated its mistake in producing a Susan B. Anthony-size coin by listening to what sort of small coin the vending industry wanted for its machines, instead of what the public would accept.
"Do I think it should have been even more distinct? Yes, I do," Gramm said. "For the greatest nation on Earth, we have crummy coins and currency. Compare them to Europe, and they look crummy, and that's not a partisan statement, because there's no partisanship when it comes to crummy coins."
While questioning the coin's size, other lawmakers said they liked the choice of Sacagawea, and the artistry of the coin.
"I like the design, and I like the picture of Sacagawea," said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, who added it will take a while to see if the American public will accept a dollar coin as replacement for the paper currency now used. "I think people will adjust to it."
"Maybe it could have been a little larger," added Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo.
Mike White, a spokesman for the U.S. Mint, said public surveys showed Americans didn't want a large dollar coin.
The Mint www.usmint.gov says the public likes the coin, which was released earlier this month for use in Postal Service offices and Wal-Mart stores. The government eventually hopes to mint 1 billion of the gold coins, which has a longer life than the paper dollar that some lawmakers want to replace.