With the national debt at $1 trillion and rising --the debt will go up an additional $100 billion during this fiscal year, according to the latest staff estimates at the Office of Management and Budget--the government is starting to look for ways, even small ways, to reduce the red ink. And so next year the U.S. Mint will produce a new silver half-dollar to commemorate the 250th anniversary of George Washington's birth--Feb. 22, 1982.

The new Washington half-dollars will be coined from an alloy of 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper, the composition of all U.S. coins up to 1965, when the Mint decided it couldn't afford real silver anymore. The new 50-cent pieces will be legal tender at their face value, but they'll obviously be worth considerably more than 50 cents. At today's silver prices, each coin will be worth about $11. The Treasury will use stockpiled silver for the coins, and sell them at the full commercial value.

The new half-dollar will be the first new piece of legal tender since the Susan B. Anthony non-silver dollar arrived in 1979. Everyone hopes the silver half-dollar will be a lot more popular than that coin, which the public has spurned. If the full minting of George Washington coins sells out--Treasury will offer about 10 million of the coins over the next two years--the net profit to the government could be $15 million. The Mint will apply the profits directly to paying off the national debt.