ATR Leads Coalition to Prevent Further Expansion of the Durbin Amendment

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Posted by James Setterlund on Monday, May 24th, 2021, 9:17 AM PERMALINK

Recently, a group of free-market organizations, led by Americans for Tax Reform Presidents Grover Norquist, sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee and House Financial Service Committee leadership opposing further attempts to expand the Durbin Amendment. Retail trade associations have continued to ask for further carve outs and price controls from payment businesses at the expense of customer's financial choices and security.

The Durbin Amendment was a last-minute addition to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The amendment created payment routing mandates and instructed the Federal Reserve to imposed price controls on debit card interchange fees. These fees are collected at the point of sale, whether in-store or online, by banks and credit unions when payments are made using a debit card. These fees help fund innovation in the payment infrastructure, fraud and security protection, and customer service support.

The retail trade associations and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), promised that the amendment would allow retailers to cut prices on their products, allowing consumers to benefit from these savings. A Federal Reserve study demonstrates in the following years after Dodd-Frank’s enactment, “all but 1 percent of retailers either raised prices or kept them level after Durbin.” A separate 2017 study found that “the overall adverse effect of the Durbin Amendment on lower-income consumers was approximately $1-3 billion per year.”

However, because of lost revenue, banks and credit unions have had to increase the costs of their financial services. According to the Richmond Federal Reserve, the Durbin Amendment has cost large banks $14 billion a year. Banks have recovered lost revenue by installing higher overdraft fees, increasing minimum balances, reducing access to free checking, eliminating debit card rewards, and charging higher maintenance fees. Hundreds of thousands of low-income households failed to receive lower retail prices as promised by retailer trade associations in exchange for inclusion of the Durbin Amendment in Dodd-Frank.

A decade after Dodd-Frank’s enactment, retail trade groups continue to ask Congress and federal regulators for further relief or to intervene in the payment card marketplace on the grounds of antitrust. However, robust competition exists in the marketplace for retailers to choose which payment routing network to use. Or retailers could choose to create their own co-branded credit cards that use the payment networks of their choice.

Additionally, if the Durbin Amendment expands to include credit cards, rewards programs enjoyed by millions who prefer to use credit cards will get rolled back without any guarantee of cost savings consistently promised from retailers. Republicans must continue to oppose the costly and ineffective expansion of the Durbin Amendment in the payment space.

Click here to view the letter or read below.

May 20, 2021

The Honorable Sherrod Brown,                The Honorable Patrick Toomey, Ranking

The Honorable Maxine Waters,                The Honorable Patrick McHenry, Ranking    

Dear Chairman Brown, Ranking Member Toomey, Chairwoman Waters and Ranking Member McHenry,

On behalf of the undersigned organizations representing millions of consumers, we write to express our opposition toward legislative and Federal Reserve efforts that expand the Durbin Amendment routing mandate, both of which would limit competition and choice in the debit and credit card marketplace. Retail trade associations have consistently lobbied for greater intervention from the Federal Reserve, including forcing market participants to allow competitors to free ride on their innovative technology, a clear and uncompensated governmental taking, given the misleading title of “interoperability.” Additionally, the harm demonstrated from the Durbin Amendment is shown in the Federal Reserve’s own data, and we oppose further attempts to expand the Durbin Amendment to credit cards.

As organizations working to advance free-market policies to benefit every part of the American economy, we sympathize with businesses that have struggled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and support policies to bring them regulatory and tax relief. We object, however, to policy actions proposed in the name of “relief” that benefit some businesses by massively raising costs on other businesses and consumers.

The Durbin Amendment was a last minute provision included in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act which mandated price controls on interchange fees for transactions using debit cards. Since its passage, retail trade associations and some in Congress have searched for opportunities to expand the Durbin Amendment's reach to credit cards. Last year, the National Restaurant Association pushed for an unrelated expansion of the Durbin Amendment in any Covid-19 relief bill to cap credit card interchange fees. At the start of this year, Sen. Durbin (D-Ill.) supported antitrust measures to limit competition amongst payment providers and the services they offer.

The expansion of the Durbin Amendment is highly concerning and would directly harm consumers during the check-out process online and in-person. Any Durbin Amendment expansion to credit cards and the costs associated with such a policy will only serve to further limit consumer’s financial choices and could threaten $50 billion in rewards enjoyed by millions of consumers and retailers who use and accept rewards credit cards.

Retailer trade groups have continued to pressure Sen. Durbin and his Democrat colleagues to call for antitrust intervention by the Federal Reserve and Department of Justice to exercise greater control over the routing of transactions. Their calls are concerningly anti-competitive and misguided.

There are currently many options for retailers to choose for the routing of debit card payments. STAR, Accel, and Interac are some of the regional routing networks that retailers may choose to use to route debit card transactions if they do not wish to use debit card firms’ own networks. Retailers, however, have asked for the Federal Reserve to mandate that debit card firms allow the payment infrastructure of their proprietary networks to be used by these regional competitors. This request would allow some routing networks to free ride on the innovation of others while possibly comprising customer’s security at check-out. 

Retailers clearly have choices and may also opt to create their own co-branded credit cards that use the payment networks of their choice. To do so, retailers may partner with a bank to issue the credit card, allowing the partnering bank to process the transaction, rather than a specific card network.

In both debit and credit card availability, competition already exists, with consumers continuing to benefit from choice in the marketplace.

Unsatisfied, retail trade groups have now initiated a lawsuit against the Federal Reserve itself for supposedly not instituting a “reasonable and proportional” interchange fee to process a debit card transaction.

Purposefully left out of the retailers’ latest complaint is the retailer’s failure to live up to their promises to reduce the cost of items in exchange for the Durbin Amendment’s addition to Dodd-Frank. The retail groups also omit in their complaint the security protections and innovation interchange fees help facilitate. A 2017 study published by the International Center of Law and Economics found that “the overall adverse effect of the Durbin Amendment on lower-income consumers was approximately $1-3 billion per year.” Interchange fees help fund security technology services, anti-fraud programs, customer service help lines and infrastructure needed by banks to process thousands of transactions a day.

Retail trade associations have proven themselves relentless in their justification of shifting billions of dollars away from consumers and limit choice within the marketplace. Consumers stand to lose the most with further government intervention and can expect to see a loss of rewards points, transaction security, and higher costs at check-out. We, the undersigned organizations, oppose any further intervention in the debit and credit card marketplace and encourage all members of Congress to vote against future expansions of the Durbin Amendment, either by legislation or misguided Federal Reserve policymaking.

Sincerely,

Grover Norquist

President, Americans for Tax Reform

Brent Wm. Gardner

Chief Government Affairs Officer, Americans for Prosperity

Robert Romano

Vice President of Public Policy, Americans for Limited Government

Heather R. Higgins

CEO, Independent Women’s Voice

Jerry Theodorou,

Director, Finance, Insurance and Trade, R Street Institute

Adam Brandon

President, FreedomWorks

Pete Sepp

President, National Taxpayers Union

Andrew F. Quinlan

President, Center for Freedom and Prosperity

Phil Kerpen

President, American Commitment

John Berlau

Senior Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute

Maureen Blum

Executive Director, USA Workforce

Matthew Kandrach

President, Consumer Action for a Strong Economy

Ryan Ellis

President, Center for a Free Economy

George Landrith

President, Frontiers of Freedom

Tom Schatz

President, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste

Garrett Bess

Vice President, Heritage Action for America

Photo Credit: Blue Coat Photos

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