Change seems imminent on Capitol Hill _ loose change, that is.
Seven bills have been introduced in the House and Senate calling for coin reform, not including the countless bills seeking commemorative coins.
"We've really been inundated," said a staff assistant in the House Banking Committee. "It's an exceedingly popular area to introduce bills. The dollar coin has been out there for a long time; it's just sort of gained momentum." The ideas with the most face value are:
_ Redesigning the tail sides of the 1-, 5-, 10-, 25- and 50-cent pieces.
_ Minting a gold dollar coin commemorating the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' trip to America for general circulation.
Both measures are given a good chance of passing Congress this summer. The Senate already has authorized the design change and the bill is ready for a vote in the House, where it has 278 co-sponsors.
"We're the only Western-world country not to change our coins on a regular basis," said Diane Wolf, a former member of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts who proposed the idea. "Coins should represent an evolution of a civilization. Coins survive. We know about many ancient civilizations simply because of their coinage."
The bill she has proposed calls for redesigning the reverse side of each coin with an image commemorating the Bill of Rights. The presidents on the obverse, or head, side of the coin would remain, but their images would be modernized by the same artists who design the reverse.
Other coin bills are more controversial.
"I'd love to be remembered as the guy who got rid of the penny," said Jim Benfield of The Coin Coalition, an organization dedicated to that end.
He also is pushing for a $1 coin, reasoning that it would take up so much room in cash registers that the penny would have to go.
The barrage of bills prompted Congress to ask the General Accounting Office to study coin reform.