Retailers rally to protect limits on swipe fees

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The campaign features a radio advertisement accusing Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who is leading the charge to delay implementation of the new debit card rules, of siding with big banks against consumers.   

NRF officials, who described the blitz as costing well into seven figures, said similar spots would target other lawmakers, and said the campaign would run in six to 12 states. They also said that, with a significant number of lawmakers still on the fence, hundreds of merchants would come to Capitol Hill in June to discuss the issue with members of Congress.

As it stands, the debit-card provision — named after Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber, and inserted into the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill — is scheduled to go into effect on July 21. 

Under aproposal the Federal Reserve released late last year, banks with $10 billion or more in assets could charge seven to 12 cents per debit card transaction, well below the current average rate of around 44 cents.

Tester has proposed delaying those regulations for two years, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has indicated that he would allow a vote on that plan. 

But Reid has also said that he will side with Durbin against pushing back implementation, in what some see as also a stare-down between the Illinois Democrat and Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat. 

It is currently unclear when the delay measure would come to the Senate floor. Some in Washington are also looking at a one-year pause — a House proposal would do just that — but that would also bring the issue back in the middle of the presidential campaign. 

Groups backing banks both big and small have strenuously opposed the new swipe fee rules, declaring that the billions in lost revenue would possibly curtail popular banking programs like free checking. 

They have also said the rules would take away from fraud protection, pointing to a recent scam at the arts-and-crafts chain Michaels that has led to dozens of false payments. 

The Electronic Payments Coalition — a group of banks, credit unions and others — responded to the new retailer campaign with a statement, saying “regulators and Members of Congress get that the Durbin amendment is terrible policy that will harm our country's community financial institutions, and all of us who own and use debit cards.”

NRF and other Durbin backers say that the current fees banks charge for debit-card transactions are the highest in the world and that even reducing them to 12 cents a transaction would not go far enough. 

On Wednesday, Mallory Duncan of NRF also said that the U.S. is currently using an antiquated system for processing debit card transactions that is more prone to fraud, adding that he does not see banks pushing hard to change that.