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President Barack Obama finally broke his silence on an issue of national importance Friday – he thinks it’s time to retire the penny.

The possible extinction of the one-cent coin was a featured economic question in a Google+ Hangout with the Commander in Chief last week as John Green, the co-creator of a popular YouTube channel, applied a little presidential peer pressure.

“Australia, Canada, New Zealand, many other countries have gotten rid of their pennies,” Green said. “Why haven’t we done it?”

“I gotta tell you, John, I don’t know,” Obama responded, adding, “Anytime we’re spending money on something people don’t actually use, that’s an example of things we should probably change.”

They’re pennies. Aren’t there more valuable things to worry about?

First, pennies actually cost more to make than they’re worth. In 2012, every penny cost 2.41 cents to make – more than twice their face value.

And as zinc and copper – materials used in minting the penny – have become costlier due, in part, to manufacturing shifts in China, which are likely to raise costs further.

Granted, the total cost of minting pennies was only $58 million last year – less than one-tenth of a percent of total federal spending in 2012 – but groups like Citizens to Retire the U.S. Penny have long been making the economic case for getting rid of the penny (plus, the group adds, fishing for pennies adds about 2 seconds to each cash transaction per day).

And the U.S. military has already decided they’re essentially useless; all Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores on bases round all cash purchases up or down to the nearest nickel.

With both parties looking for ways to cut government spending, it seems as though cutting penny production could be a relatively painless, if insignificant, place to start. But in the Google+ Hangout, Obama ceded that Washington has bigger fiscal fish to fry.

But the president doesn’t need Congress to explore other, cheaper alternatives to zinc – the main metal in pennies. In fact, the administration’s 2013 budget encourages the Treasury to “explore, analyze, and approve new, less-expensive metals for all circulating coins like aluminum, iron and lead.”

It wouldn’t be the first time Abe Lincoln’s coin got a makeover. Back in 1982, the penny changed from 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc to 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper.

Pittsburgh PA
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TOPIC: Should we get rid of Abe
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