Glorying in the surprising popularity of the recently released gold dollar coin, Philip N. Diehl, director of the U.S. Mint, appeared at the National Press Club last week. Demand for the coin, featuring the likeness of famed Native American guide Sacagawea, has forced the Mint to double production and has silenced critics who predicted the coin would flop as the Susan B. Anthony dollar did.

After some introductory remarks, Mr. Diehl answered questions from a crowd wondering: Will the dollar bill disappear? Will the penny disappear? Aren't we heading toward a cashless society anyway?

(The answers: No, no, and I hope not.)

Mr. Diehl also announced that a program to speed delivery of the coin to small banks was in the works - an effort to silence the cries of community bankers offended by a distribution deal the Mint struck with Wal-Mart stores. The plan, details of which were confirmed Friday, would let small banks order, through the Mint's secure Web site, as many as 4,000 of the coins for express delivery.

As though to prove that there are plenty of the dollar coins to go around, Mr. Diehl announced that Mint employees would be selling them - for $1 apiece - outside the ballroom. But if the move was designed to put to rest any worries of a shortage, it collapsed with these words from the woman vending the coins: "Sorry, only one per person."

In testimony before a Senate panel last week, Small Business Administration chief Aida M. Alvarez presented a budget request that would increase the amount of loans guaranteed by the agency's 7(a) program to $11.5 billion in fiscal 2001, up from $9.8 billion this year. It also would raise to 90% the guaranteed portion of 7(a) loans of $150,000 or less, up from 80% in previous years.The agency's overall budget proposal of $1.06 billion, Ms. Alvarez told lawmakers, would "give us the resources to help create jobs and economic development in places the current economic expansion hasn't yet reached."

After experiencing chest pain last Wednesday, Federal Reserve Board Governor Edward W. Kelley Jr. was taken to Georgetown University Medical Center, where doctors did a balloon angioplasty to clear a blockage in a coronary artery.Mr. Kelley, 68, joined the Fed in May 1987 and is the longest-serving member on the current board. He was expected to remain in the hospital last weekend and recuperate at home for two weeks. His term expires Jan. 31, 2004.

Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn., who announced this month that he has lung cancer, is "resting comfortably" in his St. Paul home after major surgery two weeks ago, his office said.The No. 2 Democrat on the House Banking Committee has malignant mesothelioma, which is caused by exposure to asbestos. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic removed his left lung and part of his diaphragm on Feb. 14 and released him from the hospital six days later. A spokesman for Rep. Vento said he is exercising to build up his strength and will begin chemotherapy and radiation treatments in a month or two. He does not plan to run for reelection this fall.

The White House and Republican leaders renewed their battle over education savings accounts last week.The Office of Management and Budget on Thursday issued a statement that the Education and Treasury secretaries would urge President Clinton to veto a Senate bill that would let families set aside as much as $2,000 per child in tax-free savings accounts each year for private or public education. The statement said the legislation would disproportionately benefit the wealthy, would do nothing to fix problems in public schools, and is as "flawed" as a similar bill the President vetoed in 1998.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman William V. Roth Jr. said he will continue the fight.

"This tax bill is not designed to answer all of the education-related issues that face this country," the Delaware Republican said. "The cause of affordable education is too important."

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