For Now, The Greenback Lives

ONE SMALL promise in the Republican Contract With America--replacing the dollar bill with a dollar coin--is proving to be about as popular on Capitol Hill as the government's disastrous 1977 Susan B. Anthony coin goof. The idea appears doomed, as polls show tradition-bound Americans strongly against jettisoning the 130-year-old greenback for a newfangled gold-colored coin.

GOP budget-balancers had figured they could save $112 million over five years by closing the dollar presses, which replace the entire stock of bills every 17 months. Coins, obviously, are a lot more durable. Supported by mining and vending-machine interests, proponents argued that coins minted this year would last into the 2020s. But foes, including Clinton Administration officials, argued that smart cards, not dollar coins, are the currency of the future.

Facing certain defeat, coin supporters recently decided not to force showdown votes in the congressional banking committees. Nonetheless, at a committee meeting, Senator Rod Grams (R-Minn.), the coin's Senate pointman, predicted eventual victory, saying: "We're on the 25-yard line, ready to score." Said Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.): "You're on the 25-yard line--your own."