President Bush said Thursday he would consider additional ways to pay homage to Ronald Reagan but he wouldn’t say how.
Asked whether he backed such proposals as renaming the Pentagon after the former president or etching his image on U.S. currency, Bush said, “I give a speech tomorrow, and then I will reflect on further ways to honor a great president.”
After Reagan’s death on Saturday, ardent Republican supporters on Capitol Hill again floated ideas for legislation that would put his face on the dime or the $10 or $20 bill, even if it means a lesser or disappearing role for Franklin D. Roosevelt, Alexander Hamilton or Andrew Jackson.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has suggested renaming the Pentagon the Ronald Reagan National Defense Building.
Reagan’s wife, Nancy, has opposed changing the dime, which now bears Franklin D. Roosevelt’s face, and the Indiana congressman pushing for that switch said Thursday he had given up the idea for now.
Rep. Mark Souder said he saw potential for a bipartisan consensus in efforts to put Reagan’s face on the $10 bill, which now features Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury secretary. The office of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also said he would pursue an idea for placing Reagan on the $10 bill.
Getting their hero’s face on the dime may be easier than other goals, such as seeing it etched on Mount Rushmore, but that idea still will be resisted by Democrats defending their own icon, FDR.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a speechwriter in the Reagan White House, plans to introduce a bill to put Reagan on the $20 bill, replacing another venerable Democrat, Andrew Jackson.
$10 bill a top priority
Chris Butler of the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, which has the goal of seeing a Reagan commemoration in every American county, said its top legislative priority is the $10 bill. He noted that money can be changed administratively without congressional action, and suggested that Reagan dimes could join, rather than replace, FDR dimes.
The Treasury secretary can change the design of coins, usually after consulting Congress, but spokeswoman Anne Womack Kolton said, “We believe it is premature at this point to discuss any possible changes to the currency.”
Replacing FDR would not happen without a battle. Last November, on the same day Souder introduced his Reagan dime bill “in honor of his work in restoring American greatness and bringing freedom to captive nations around the world,” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., proposed a resolution affirming support of the FDR dime. More than half the House Democrats joined him as co-sponsors.
Reagan’s wife, Nancy, has also voiced opposition to the new dime. Souder last December praised the “humble nature” of Mrs. Reagan’s comments but said he would continue to promote his bill, which has the support of GOP leaders, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
Butler, whose group is a wing of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform, pointed out that coins bearing the likeness of FDR, John F. Kennedy and Lincoln all appeared within a year of their deaths. The Roosevelt dime came out in 1946, in part commemorating his support for the March of Dimes campaign to fight polio.
More memorials sought
Besides paper and metal, Reagan advocates have long pushed to see their champion honored more widely in stone. Butler said there are now some 54 highways, schools, post offices and other memorials to Reagan around the country, but that still pales in comparison with the more than 600 for Kennedy and more than 800 for Martin Luther King.
Up to now, the biggest victories have been the renaming of Washington’s National Airport after the 40th president and the opening in Washington of the Ronald Reagan Building, the second largest government office building after the Pentagon. Last year the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was commissioned.
Still in the works is the idea of a monument to Reagan on the National Mall in Washington, deterred by a law — signed by Reagan — that bars new monuments until a person has been dead 25 years.
Then there is Mount Rushmore. It will take a long time to study the geophysical and artistic feasibility of that project, Butler said. But “is he great enough to be on Mount Rushmore? Yes.”