The National Restaurant Association, NACS and other backers of the Credit Card Competition Act are counting on a Senate vote on the legislation this year.
The bill is aimed at injecting more competition into the U.S. card network arena dominated by Visa, and its rival Mastercard. It would require that a competing network, other than those two, be made available to merchants for processing credit card transactions.
Supporters base their expectations for a vote largely on word from Kansas Republican Sen. Roger Marshall’s office that his party’s leadership in the chamber supports a vote on the agenda for this year.
Marshall “feels confident in that, and we take a lot of confidence from that as well,” said Doug Kantor, who is general counsel for the trade group NACS, an association that represents convenience stores and fueling stations impacted by card ‘swipe’ fees.
A spokesperson for Marshall offered this, without commenting on his legislative strategy: “The credit card market is clearly broken, and we have a solution to fix it. The Credit Card Competition Act will level the playing field by forcing Visa and Mastercard to come to the table and compete with other companies in the industry, and in doing so, this legislation will help drive down costs for merchants and consumers.”
The legislation could be taken up in the Senate in multiple ways, though most likely as an amendment to a piece of funding legislation, Kantor said.
Marshall isn’t the only Republican sponsoring the bill. It has also attracted support from Republican Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) as well as other Republicans who touted the legislation at a press conference in June.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, who has crusaded for years to spur more competition in the industry and shepherded legislation restricting debit card transactions more than a decade ago, also is a sponsor of the bill. Sen. Peter Welch (D-VT) is a sponsor as well. The House companion bill also has bipartisan backing.
“Senator Marshall is pretty fired up about it,” said Sean Kennedy, who is executive vice president of public affairs at the National Restaurant Association. As for Durbin, he’s a key asset in getting the bill through, Kennedy said. “He’s a master at senate tactics,” he said in an interview.
Durbin and Marshall issued a statement castigating the card networks after the publication of a Wall Street Journal story that said the two companies plan to raise fees that merchants are charged later this year. In the joint release, they pressured the networks not to follow through on such a plan, saying the prospect of the fee hike underscored the need for their bill.
The legislation would ensure that the “duopoly ends their price gouging tactics that disproportionately hurt American families and small businesses,” the Aug. 30 release said.
For their part, the card network companies pushed back against the notion that they plan to raise fees. The companies didn’t respond to a request for comment regarding the legislation.
A spokesperson for Durbin reiterated the senator’s attention to the bill. “Senator Durbin continues to advocate for a vote on the Credit Card Competition Act,” the spokesperson said by email. “As lawmakers, Senator Durbin believes we should prioritize lowering costs for consumers and small businesses, and the Credit Card Competition Act will help.”
There are multiple funding bills that could serve as vehicles for bringing the bill before the Senate, but prospects for the legislation will also turn on the broader political environment, Kantor said. That includes legislation for the overall budget and funding for Ukraine’s battle against Russia as well as disaster relief for states that have suffered natural disasters, he said.
Other groups supporting the campaign include FMI The Food Industry; the National Grocers Association; the National Association of Theatre Owners; and the National Association of College Stores. The organizations are making the rounds on Capitol Hill to secure votes for the legislation and encouraging their members to be in touch with congressional representatives about the bill.
There are powerful interests lined up against the bill as well. They include the Electronic Payments Coalition; the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions; and American Bankers Association, among others. Those detractors weighed in against an earlier attempt to attach the bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that was passed this year.
And Kantor concedes that he and his allies supporting the CCCA are regularly outspent by their opponents on the issue. He declined to say how much his contingent is spending. In any case, he called it “the most heavily lobbied issue in Washington right now.”