Banks, Retailers In Lobbying Race Over Debit Fees Retailers pay an interchange fee to banks every time you buy with your debit card. But new legislation is about to bring these swipe fees down, hurting bank revenues. So, retailers and banks have begun fighting over the rule — in the offices of lawmakers, and on the walls of subway cars.
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Banks, Retailers In Lobbying Race Over Debit Fees

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Banks, Retailers In Lobbying Race Over Debit Fees

Banks, Retailers In Lobbying Race Over Debit Fees

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH: Banks and the card companies are poised to lose billions. So now they're pushing legislation to delay the start of the new rule.

PAUL BLUMENTHAL: Congress is going to decide who's going to win. Is it a big business or the biggest business?

KEITH: On one side you've got Wal-Mart and Home Depot and Amazon and the convenience store on the corner. And on the other side you've got Visa and MasterCard and the big banks and the credit union down the block.

BLUMENTHAL: Senators and congressmen see this as the premier lobbying issue at the moment. This seems to be the one that sticks out as the one that they're being lobbied on the most.

KEITH: Unidentified Woman: Red line (unintelligible)...

KEITH: I'm riding on the Metro here in Washington, D.C., and the fight over these interchange rules has made it even here. There are ads all over this train that say: Washington is helping giant retailers clean out your wallet.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TRISH WEXLER: We have ads running on about 100 railcars.

KEITH: Trish Wexler is the spokesperson for the Electronic Payments Coalition, the group of banks and credit unions behind the Metro ads.

WEXLER: When you talk about it in terms like interchange fees or merchant discount fee, you know, we kind of tune it out as average Americans. My job was to make sure that people understood this means that our debit card is going to end up costing us more as a result. And all of the sudden people started waking up and saying, wow, you know, I don't want this to hit my pocket.

KEITH: Interestingly, both the banks and the retailers say they have the little guy on their side. Bill Cheney is president of the Credit Union National Association.

BILL CHENEY: We've had over 250,000 of our members contact their representatives in Washington, just in the last month.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)

KEITH: But retailers are calling and writing their members of Congress too, saying please let the rule go into effect as planned. Tariq Hussein is a 7- Eleven franchisee in Washington, D.C.

TARIQ HUSSEIN: We already worked on this one. We already figured that this is not fair. Why re-open now? What happened?

KEITH: Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

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