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Memorials to Reagan Await Action

As delegates headed into Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, the conservative organization did its part to memorialize President Ronald Reagan: Officials of the group gave out hand fans bearing the late president’s image.

On a grander scale, Republican delegates earlier in the week approved a proclamation honoring the late president when the party’s official platform was adopted.

Meanwhile, back in the nation’s capital, scores of bills sit in House and Senate committees, urging the enshrinement of Reagan’s face on everything from the dime to the $10 bill.

To sort through the legislative proposals, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) established a task force earlier this summer to choose the most appropriate ways of honoring the 40th president and giant of modern conservatism.

But partisan squabbling and lack of consensus within Republican circles makes it unlikely that Congress will take action on these measures this year.

“Senator McConnell and his colleagues are discussing a number of worthy ideas to pay tribute to President Reagan, and after the August recess, the task force will continue its work to identify the best way to honor the achievement of this great president,” said Robert Steurer, a spokesman for Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is leading the task force.

When Reagan died in June, several Members and Senators began proposing ideas about how best to honor Reagan. Cold, hard currency was a favored option, but there’s a problem: Putting Reagan’s image on a coin or on paper currency would require bumping another historical figure, which, depending on the figure, could be problematic for Members of both parties.

The Reagan family has been careful not to offer any suggestions, preferring instead to let the late president’s admirers in the nation’s capital sort out the options.

“I think the family said, ‘Do what you want, but don’t feel like we should go with it necessarily,’” Frist said this week about placing Reagan’s image on coins or paper money. The Majority Leader noted that many of the original ideas have “been pulled back” as lawmakers decide how best to proceed.

That’s fine with Reagan’s biggest advocate, Grover Norquist, the influential anti-tax activist. For Norquist, who chairs the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, it’s more important to make sure that something of major significance is done to honor Reagan than to have a quick but minor recognition passed by Congress.

Still, Norquist does want to see Reagan’s image on currency, and says it doesn’t require an act of Congress to do so.

“We do not need a binding vote out of the House and Senate,” Norquist said. However, he laments that neither the Treasury Department nor the U.S. Mint is going to do something “unless they get a sense [Congress] is happy with it.”

The idea of recognizing Reagan on coinage did not begin with his death. Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) offered a bill last year to put Reagan’s face on the dime. Now, others such as Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.), Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Ariz.) want Reagan’s image on the $10 bill, the half-dollar and the $20 bill, respectively.

Still others, such as Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.), believe Reagan’s visage should be carved beside those of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt at Mount Rushmore.

A Republican familiar with the task force’s discussions said if the panel decides to put Reagan’s face on a coin or on paper currency, then the leading contender is the $50 bill. However, it is considered more likely that Congress would look for another legislative tribute so it could avoid a fight with Congressional Democrats.

Norquist said he doesn’t think that would be enough.

Asked whether he would accept anything other than a coin or a bill, Norquist said, “If it is a spending bill, the answer is no. … It would be horrific.”

Asked about a proposal by Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) to name the earned-income tax credit after Reagan, Norquist responded, tersely, that such a proposal “is just insulting.”

“The guy is being childish,” Norquist said. “He is in the House of Representatives so his stupid idea won’t see the light of day.”

Through a spokeswoman, Emanuel insisted that his suggestion was serious.

“I thought it was a more appropriate tribute to Reagan,” he said.