The proposed Credit Card Competition Act failed to become part of a U.S. defense spending bill this week, but backers of the legislation expect to have another chance to attach it to the military bill next month.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Roger Marshall (R-KS), sponsors of the card competition legislation, were hopeful they could tack the legislation onto the National Defense Authorization Act.
It could have been a surefire way to help their bill pass through the chamber because the defense funding legislation is a must-pass bill every year. However, other senators apparently had the same idea, with some 900 other amendments offered, too.
When Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee launched discussion of the NDAA Tuesday, few of the amendments were part of it. He aimed to act on the defense spending bill before a recess that starts later this month, but now it’s likely to be taken up after that break ends about three weeks later in November.
“The Senate will return in mid-Nov to consider the NDAA bill and we’ll push to try to get a vote on this amendment then,” Maddie Carlos, a spokesperson for Durbin’s office, said by email. Only a few dozen amendments were included in this initial version of the bill, she said.
The card competition act would mandate that retailers and other merchants have access to at least two unaffiliated credit networks for routing card transactions when consumers swipe to pay. The thrust of the legislation is to create more competition for the network juggernauts Visa and Mastercard in the interest of reducing the interchange fees that merchants are charged when consumers use the cards.
In late September, Durbin and Marshall introduced two amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, seeking to attach their legislation to that annual defense bill. In a Sept. 30 press release, they noted that military veterans must sometimes pay surcharges at military commissaries to cover payment of the interchange fees.
Their proposed first amendment to the NDAA was essentially the same legislation as the credit card competition bill they introduced in July. A second amendment called on the U.S. Defense and Treasury departments to issue a report on how much veterans pay in credit card surcharges and which companies benefit from those fees.
The senators argued that Visa and Mastercard process about 83% of general-purpose credit cards in the U.S., with $3.49 trillion transacted through the two companies in 2021. They also have said the fees paid by U.S. merchants for use of the networks “are among the world’s highest,” with $77.48 billion in fees paid in 2021.
But there has been plenty of opposition to the bill, namely from the banks that issue the cards and interest groups that represent card interests.
“We were able to keep the harmful Credit Card Competition Act and the interchange issue out of the Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute offered to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in the Senate today,” National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions CEO Dan Berger said in a statement Tuesday. “This is a big win for credit unions, but we need to continue the fight to make sure lawmakers fully comprehend the damage this bill would have on the financial services industry and American consumers.”
Merchant supporters remain optimistic the bill will advance. “This is just the beginning of debate over the NDAA and there are many senators who are very concerned about the impact of high swipe fees on veterans who have bravely served their country,” National Association of Convenience Stores General Counsel Doug Kantor said in a statement. “We look forward to seeing senators address this issue during floor consideration of the bill.” Kantor is also an executive committee member for the Merchants Payments Coalition.
Durbin, who has been campaigning for years to inject more competition into the card industry, successfully pushed through passage of a similar amendment for routing debit transactions as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Both proponents and opponents of the proposed legislation suspected the sponsors would use a similar maneuver for this bill.
The House has already passed its version of the NDAA and didn’t include the credit card legislation, but if it’s attached in the Senate it could win approval when the chambers reconcile their two versions.
A House version of the proposed Credit Card Competition Act was introduced last month.