Accusations Fly as Sens Aim to Attach Interchange Plan to Funding Bills
Credit union groups respond to attempt to add legislation as amendment to aappropriations measure.
As senators begin their effort to attach credit card interchange legislation to FY24 appropriations bills, lobbying on the high-stakes issue is escalating, with each side accusing the other of blatant greed.
“It is long overdue for Congress to break up the sweetheart deal that Visa, Mastercard, and the biggest banks in America, and certain airlines, enjoy,” Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said on the Senate floor Sept. 13. “We must bring the bipartisan Credit Card Competition Act to the floor for a vote."
Backstory and Context
The interchange legislation would require the Federal Reserve to issue rules that would ensure that large credit unions and banks that currently use the four-party card processing system be required to use at least one affiliated network in addition to Visa and Mastercard.
CUNA President/CEO Jim Nussle recently predicted that supporters of the bill would try to attach it to must-pass legislation.
And that is exactly what has happened in the Senate, as Durbin, Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., and others try to add the legislation as an amendment to appropriations bills that the Senate may consider.
Reaction From Credit Unions
That development has set off a new flurry of lobbying.
“Any new caps or restrictions on interchange fees would only hurt community institutions such as credit unions as well as the American consumer,” NAFCU President/CEO Dan Berger stated in a letter to Senate leaders late last week.
He said that the legislation is not about competition, noting that interchange fees cover a variety of expenses at financial institutions.
“The requirements in the legislation for multiple networks on credit cards mean that consumers will lose choice when it comes to credit cards, as big box retailers could now pick which network will process transactions and go with the cheapest and potentially less secure option,” the letter reads.
He added that the card reward programs customers use at retailers could disappear based on a retailer’s choice.
“It is the height of hypocrisy that big box retailers, which take advantage of the many benefits of payment cards, do not want the consumers who use them to be able to have their benefits,” Berger wrote. “If they do not like the rules of the payment card system, they can always accept cash.”
CUNA has been circulating an interchange kit containing ads that coincided with the return of Congress to Capitol Hill.
“We are bringing the real people who would bear the brunt of this legislation to our new ads, to hammer home how their livelihoods would be negatively affected while growing big retailers’ profits and putting consumers’ data security at risk,” said CUNA Chief Political Officer Richard Gose.
Support for the Bill
On the other side of the issue, several consumer groups sent senators a letter arguing that because of the Visa-Mastercard duopoly, U.S. consumers pay the highest swipe fees in the industrialized world.
“Due to their unchecked market power in the U.S., Visa and Mastercard charge ten times the swipe fees they charge in Europe,” the groups, including the Center for Responsible Lending, Americans for Financial Reform and the National Association of Consumer Advocates, wrote. “The current credit card interchange system is uncompetitive, non-transparent, and harmful to consumers.”
Meanwhile, in a speech on the Senate floor last week, Marshall summed up the issue this way: “Now, back in Kansas, we have a saying: Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered. Visa and Mastercard have gotten hoggish on the backs of hard-working Americans.”