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April 5, 2011 - Merchants on Capitol Hill Today to Fight Delay of Swipe Fee Reform

Merchants from across the country are on Capitol Hill today asking Congress to reject legislation that would delay swipe fee reform.

Dozens of members of NRF and NRF’s National Council of Chain Restaurants division are visiting House and Senate offices, joined by officials from a number of state retail associations. The fly-in is the second organized by NRF in the past month and one of several being conducted by retail groups to counter similar efforts by the banking industry.

The visit comes as USA Today published an editorial this morning saying “Congress was right to go after debit card swipe fees” and “should not abandon the effort” by delaying reform.

The retailers and restaurant executives are trying to block bank efforts to delay July’s scheduled implementation of reform by as long as two years.

“We all know that in Congress ‘study’ is a euphemism for ‘kill,’ ” NRF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mallory Duncan told the group this morning. “Congress has done the right thing in passing swipe fee reform. What we need to do is remind them of that.”

While today’s meetings are taking place with members of both chambers of Congress, the focus in on the Senate, which is expected to be the first to act. Senator Jon Tester, D-Mont., is attempting to have his measure – which would delay implementation two years and require a new government study of the issue – attached to a pending small business bill. A similar bill sponsored by House Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee Chairwoman Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., would mandate a one-year delay.

Banks are seeking further study even though Congress held seven hearings and ordered two Government Accountability Office studies before enacting swipe fee reform last year.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said last week that while the Fed will not be able to meet an April 21 date to finalize swipe fee reform regulations, it will do so in time for the new rules to take effect on July 21 as scheduled.

Regulations proposed by the Fed in December would lower debit card swipe fees from their current level of 1 to 2 percent of each transaction to a flat fee of no more than 12 cents per transaction for large banks that adhere to fees set by the card companies. Banks that set their own rates would be free to charge any fee they believe the market would bear provide that they do so independently. The move would reduce the current $20 billion a year in debit swipe fees by about 70 percent, or $1.2 billion a month. Financial institutions with less than $10 billion in assets are exempt.

© 2011 National Retail Federation