Congress to take another swing at minting baseball coin

The House this week will be forced to pass another piece of legislation allowing the U.S. Mint to create a National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coin, after a bill passed last year inadvertently created headaches for the Mint.

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In 2012, Congress passed the National Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin Act, which called for the creation of coins to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.

The law says the $5 gold coin must "have a diameter of 0.850 inches," and that the $1 silver coin must "have a diameter of 1.500 inches." The law also encouraged the Mint to create domed, or curved, coins — the side bulging out will show a baseball, and they will be the first curved coins ever to be produced by the U.S. Mint.

The Mint took a few practice swings at the coins, using standard metal blanks of 0.850 and 1.500 inches. 

But in doing so, the Mint discovered that the process of curving the coins means their final diameter will be a tiny bit less than the diameters set out under the law. Meeting the final diameter requirements under current law would therefore mean starting with slightly larger metal blanks, which would run up the cost.

The Mint instead asked Congress to change to the law so it can start with standard precious metal blanks that are 0.850 inches and 1.500 inches in diameter. That would let the Mint end up with curved coins that are slightly smaller in diameter.

"The Mint has requested a statutory change to the required diameter of the coins because when the Mint started technical work on making the coin domed it found that pushing out the center of the coin slightly drew in the edges," according to a summary of the technical corrections bill from Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.). 

"The Mint therefore asked for a change in the law from specifying the finished size of the coin to specifying the diameter of their standard coin blank, so it does not have to order custom blanks which would be more expensive."

As former Yankees catcher Yogi Berra once said, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." But in this case, the bill is expected to be a hit in the House when it comes up Wednesday — Republicans are considering it under a suspension of House rules, anticipating easy passage by a two-thirds majority vote.

Last year, the bill easily passed the House in a 416-3 vote.

But as Berra also observed, "it ain't over till it's over." Bringing the bill up again will likely lead some to argue that the U.S. government should not be playing umpire in the private sector through the minting of coins.

Like other commemorative coin bills, the baseball coin bill calls on the Mint to create the coins, which would then sell at a premium, and the funds would go to help the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Specifically, the $5 gold coin would sell for $35, the $1 silver coin would sell for $10, and the half-dollar would sell for $5.

The only opponents to the bill last year were Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), and Ron Paul (R-Texas). Ron Paul is no longer in the House, but Amash is, and he argued that Congress should not help private groups this way.

"It's far beyond the proper scope of the federal government to act as a sales agent for a private group," Amash said last year.

Last September, Republicans in the House and Senate proposed a bill that would prevent Congress from authorizing new coins that help raise millions of dollars for the groups they commemorate. 

Amash proposed that bill in the House, and the Senate version was introduced by former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), and had seven GOP cosponsors.

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