Minting Mark Twain

Mark Twain liked to take jabs at Congress, but today he might be inclined to hug a few members -- or at least shake their hands.
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Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) liked to take jabs at Congress, but today he might be inclined to hug a few members -- or at least shake their hands.

Missouri Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO-9) has accomplished a rare feat these days: the passing of a bipartisan bill. And a bill that honors the very Mark Twain whose satirical barbs were frequently aimed at Congress, no less. But that was long ago, and all appears to be forgiven.

Representatives Luetkemeyer and John Larson (D-CT-1) resurrected the Mark Twain Commemorative Coin Act, which failed to gain traction in the past. They garnered a total of 298 bipartisan signatures and brought H.R. 2453 to a successful vote. Still, gives this bill only a 42 percent chance of being enacted, further noting that in 2009-2010 just 29 percent of House bills reported favorably were enacted.

However, this bill has momentum, and for good reason. It's a budget neutral bill.

Commemorative coin bills always are: collectors cover all costs associated with the manufacturing and distribution of the gold and silver coins. Not only does this bill spare taxpayers, it will generate much needed revenue for four primary Mark Twain sites: 1) The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, MO; 2) The Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT; 3) The Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, NY; and 4) The Mark Twain Project at UC-Berkeley, CA. Each of these entities is a nonprofit endeavor working to preserve Twain's legacy.

Mark Twain experienced American history front and center, including the iconic but short-lived Pony Express. He once saw a pony-rider whiz by as he and his brother journeyed westward by stagecoach. Twain wrote of their urgency, "There was no idling-time for a pony-rider on duty. He rode fifty miles without stopping, by daylight, moonlight, starlight, or through the blackness of darkness." If anyone knew anything about momentum, it was a Pony Express rider. And that is the kind of swift, follow-up action needed now by the Senate.

On November 30, 2011 (Clemens' birthday), Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced S-1929, the Senate version of the Twain coin bill. Co-sponsors included Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), California Senators Barbara Boxer (D) and Diane Feinstein (D), New York Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Charles Schumer (D), and Missouri Senators Roy Blunt (R) and Claire McCaskill (D). A total of 67 signatures are required to bring this bill to a vote. And with an election bearing down, time is of the essence. On May 15th the Mark Twain Boyhood Home in Hannibal will celebrate its 100th anniversary as a museum. The focus of the celebration will be the importance and challenges of historic preservation. What better target date for the Senators to gather the necessary signatures to move this bill to a vote?

Pony Express riders stirred up dust -- they did not gather it. Twain wrote, "There were about eighty pony-riders in the saddle all the time, night and day, stretching in a long, scattering procession from Missouri to California, forty flying eastward, and forty toward the west, and among them making four hundred gallant horses earn a stirring livelihood." Riders moved swiftly from horse to horse with efficiency. Under Congressmen Luetkemeyer and Larson's leadership, the House has worked swiftly and efficiently to honor this great American and support efforts to preserve his legacy. And now the Senate must saddle up, stir some dust, and deliver this legislation to the Commander-in-Chief.

What say ye, Senators? Can we do this by May 15th? If House members can forgive: "Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can," then surely the Senate can forgive: "Senator: a person who makes laws in Washington when not doing time."

You know he was just kidding, right?

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