WASHINGTON — Industry groups continued their full-court press Wednesday to keep an interchange provision out of the final regulatory reform bill, but whether they could succeed was an open question.
Their intensive lobbying efforts came as supporters remained steadfast. At a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing, Sen. Richard Durbin, the author of the provision, asked a Justice Department official if the credit card networks remained under scrutiny for alleged "anticompetitive practices."
"We have publicly confirmed that we have an open investigation into the credit card industry," said Christine Varney, an assistant attorney general for Justice's antitrust division.
Still, banks and credit unions this week have tried convincing lawmakers to drop the provisions — supported in the Senate bill — through letters and meetings. Just Wednesday, the heads of the Independent Community Bankers of America, National Association of Federal Credit Unions and Credit Union National Association appeared in a joint Web cast to plead their case.
But it was unclear if their efforts were having an impact.
"I hope the momentum is shifting," said an industry source who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "But to be fair, I'm not sure the momentum has truly been in either direction, the Senate vote notwithstanding."
Durbin's provision, which passed easily as an amendment to the Senate bill, would require the Federal Reserve Board to ensure debit interchange fees were "reasonable and proportional" to the cost of processing payments.
Thereafter, a new consumer protection bureau housed under the Fed would oversee the fee system.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Durbin said the momentum was "still in my favor."
But the industry can still conceivably roll back the provision as a conference committee begins to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the financial overhaul.
"The more time Congress has to debate the issue, the more time conferees have to look at it, the more the unworkability and the inadequacies of the proposal are going to manifest themselves," said Steve Verdier, the ICBA's director of congressional relations.