Election-year politics is threatening newly authorized fees on automatic teller machine users.
In April, banks got the green light to add charges for noncustomers who use their ATMs. Proposals to limit the new fees popped up quickly on Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers know that voters are also bank customers irate over new fees, said Joe Belew, president of the Consumer Bankers Association.
"You've got to realize it's a political year," he said. "Congress is looking for things the freshmen can take home and say, 'Look what I've done.'"
Two key bills have been introduced to limit the charges that ATM operators levy on noncustomers who use their machines. Legislation proposed Wednesday by Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J., would force ATM owners to disclose their surcharges. Much tougher is a bill from Senate Banking Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato that would ban surcharges.
The issue has split the banking industry - a factor that will help lawmakers mow down opposition.
Lawmakers said they want to move fast on the ATM rules. Rep. Roukema, who chairs House Banking's financial institutions and consumer credit subcommittee, wants her panel to vote on the disclosure regulations soon after the July 4 recess. She hopes to bring the bill to the House floor in September. Sen. D'Amato, R-N.Y., is considering whether to hold hearings on his bill soon.
The Independent Bankers Association of America is making hay of the issue, calling the new surcharges "a double whammy."
Small banks, which rely on ATMs from other institutions to serve their customers, say they already compensate competitors through "interchange" fees. By making customers pay, too, larger institutions can use the price advantage to steal depositors, IBAA has argued.
The IBAA wants to forbid ATM operators from charging both interchange fees and surcharges.
The IBAA's position puts the other trade groups, particularly the American Bankers Association, in a tight spot because they want no legislation.
ABA works hard to service the same small banks that IBAA covets, but it argues that banks and ATM networks should decide whether surcharges are charged on top of interchange fees.
The CBA also opposes new legislation.
"I've grown leery of things that look straight forward and easy," said CBA's Mr. Belew. "It's like Truth-in-Savings. It sounded like such a good idea and turned into a regulatory nightmare."
What's more, not all big banks will impose surcharges, he said. "Small banks are assuming this is going to be a universal practice, when in actuality it's far from it."
Although Republicans might be expected to oppose new industry rules, Rep. Roukema's disclosure plan has"a 50-50 chance" of becoming law because ofelection year politics, he said.
As for Sen. D'Amato's effort to ban the fees, Mr. Belew calls the plan "anathema" and predicted larger banks will fight furiously to block it.
"Why should you let somebody who's not your customer use your equipment for free? Everybody's missing that point," he said.