WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said Thursday that it might be time to stop making pennies, calling them obsolete and a "good metaphor" for some of the more frustrating aspects of government waste.
During an online "Fireside Chat" with a random group of Americans, one questioner asked Obama why the United States is still minting pennies when so many economists agree they are economically inefficient and can't even be used for certain coin-operated machines, such as toll booths. The moderator of the event noted that the penny question was the number one question in the economy section of YouTube.
"I gotta tell you ... I don't know," Obama replied. "It's one of those things where I think people get attached emotionally to the way things have been ... We remember our piggy banks and counting up all our pennies and then taking them in and getting a dollar bill or a couple dollars from them, and maybe that's the reason why people haven't gotten around to it."
Obama said while it wouldn't be a huge savings for the government to discontinue the penny -- each zinc and copper coin costs 2.41 cents to produce and distribute, according to the mint -- the fact that the government keeps spending money on it when it's not being used much may mean it is "an example of something we should probably change."
He went on to call the penny "a good metaphor for some of the larger problems that we've got," pointing to the fact that the government has problems getting "rid of things that don't work so that we can then invest in the things that do."
The president compared the inadequacy of the penny to the fact that there are 16 different federal agencies that deal with businesses, which makes it confusing for small business owners, for example, to know where to go for help. Ultimately, Obama said, it is up to Congress to give him the authority to streamline those agencies, just as it would be up to Congress to pass a bill to get rid of the penny.
"The penny is an example of something that I need legislation for," he added. "Frankly, given all the big issues that we have to deal with day in and day out, a lot of times, it just doesn't, we're not able to get it."