US Congress To Vote On Credit Card Competition Act, Senator Says

July 28, 2023
Proponents of the US Credit Card Competition Act secure assurances that Congress will vote on the fiercely debated bill but the proposal still has a bumpy road ahead.

Proponents of the US Credit Card Competition Act secure assurances that Congress will vote on the fiercely debated bill but the proposal still has a bumpy road ahead.

“Today, we were given assurances that the Credit Card Competition Act will be given a vote this Congress,” Senator Roger Marshall said on Tuesday (July 25).

Marshall, a Republican from Kansas, said the times when swipe fees “are price-gouging American families nationwide at a rate seven times higher than the EU … will soon end.”

Marshall is one of the co-sponsors of the bill which has gained bi-partisan and bicameral support, including from Senator Richard Durbin, the namesake of the US debit card legislation known as the "Durbin Amendment".

Marshall’s statement came amid fierce lobbying from supporters of the bill to attach the legislative proposal to the National Defense Authorization Act, the must-pass defense spending bill.

It is not uncommon for members of Congress to seek the inclusion of their bills in must-pass pieces of legislation, such as the defense or omnibus budget bills, to boost the chances it will become law when the budget bill eventually gets the President’s signature.

Last year, when Durbin introduced the Credit Card Competition Act for the first time, he sought to add the bill to the defense budget without success.

Marshall, Durbin and Senator Peter Welch are now trying to use the same route. Congressional records show that the legislators proposed an amendment on July 18 that would link the credit card bill to the defense budget.

However, Durbin’s spokesperson told VIXIO that there are no plans in the Senate to vote on that specific amendment at this time.

Clash of banks and merchants

Since Durbin reintroduced the bill in June, banks and merchants, the two lobby groups with opposing interests, have aggressively campaigned on the issue, publishing a variety of letters and advertisements in support of and against the legislation.

In a letter dated July 14, a group of ten bankers’ associations urged Congress not to allow the bill to be added to the defense package.

They argued that the credit card bill has “no business being added to annual legislation designed to bolster our national defense”.

According to the bankers, the bill would harm consumers by limiting popular credit card rewards programs. They also claim that the goal of the bill is “enriching the largest multinational retailers and obscure payments processors”.

Last August, an article on Forbes estimated that Amazon paid $2.2bn in fees to the card brands, based on around two-thirds of its $340bn sales in 2021 being paid by a credit card and that it paid a relatively low 1 percent interchange fee.

If passed, Durbin’s credit card bill could, therefore, save large merchants billions of dollars.

Merchants claim that swipe fees have grown 20 percent in each of the last three years and that is now their highest operating cost after labour.

The Merchants Payments Coalition argues this drives up prices by an estimated $1,024 a year for an average American family.

“The bill forces Members of Congress to choose between two large and powerful constituent groups — banks and merchants — and they prefer not to upset either one of them,” Scott Talbott, senior vice president of government affairs at the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA), said.

Although many lawmakers would likely favour not voting on the proposal, even if they do, the political climate has changed significantly since last year.

Arguably, Durbin’s bill had the best chance to make it through Congress last year when the House, Senate and White House were all controlled by Democrats.

“Given the underlying politics, the bill faces an uphill battle to enactment,” Talbott noted.

Last month, several large news sites welcomed the re-introduction of the credit card bill, arguing that, this time, it has support from a larger group of lawmakers.

The number of sponsors in the House and Senate combined has in fact grown from four to nine but it still represents a small portion of Congress.

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