General Accounting Office studies of consumer surcharges have a certain value in an election year; whether their sound and fury signifies anything more long term is another story. Such is the case with the much-debated ATM surcharging issueosnapped up by Senator Alfonse D'Amato, who held a hearing and resurrected a bill banning double consumer fees for so-called "foreign" ATM use. "The big issue on the Hill this year is financial modernization, and we don't expect this to get out of the House (Banking Committee), says Edward Mierzwinski, a banking expert with the consumer advocate Public Interest Research Group. National politics and business, though, aren't always the same thing. And there's no doubt that ATM surchargingolevying fees against customers who use ATMs to access their own moneyois anything but a public relations success. Even so, bankers can rest assured that D'Amato isn't going to win any easy battlesofor the time being anyway. Consultants, speaking on the record, argue that ATMs are expensive to operate, and that consumers use ATMs more often than they previously frequented teller lines. Convenience, the thinking goes, has its price, and consumers must be willing to pay for it. On background, though, bank consultants say something a little different. "For someone with low balances and high uses, ATM surcharging makes sense," says one consultant. "But for customers with high balances and relatively high withdrawals, surcharging is a dumb
thing to do because it's so visible."