As a lobbying group, the largest American banks have been dominant throughout the latest boom-bust-bailout cycle – capturing the hearts and minds of the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as the support of most elected representatives on Capitol Hill.
Their reign, however, is being seriously challenged – finally – by an alliance of retailers, big and small, on whose behalf a variety of ads are now running, including on television (such as this one, by Americans for Job Security), the Web (such as this, by American Family Voices) and a powerful radio spot directly attacking the too-big–to-fail banks.
The immediate issue is the so-called Durbin amendment –- a requirement in the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul legislation that would lower what are known as the interchange fees that banks collect when anyone buys anything with a debit card. Retailers pay the fees, but these are then reflected in the prices faced by consumers.
The United States has very high debit-card fees, colloquially known as swipe fees –- 44 cents on average (that amounts to 1.14 percent of the average purchase price of $39) and up to 98 cents for some kinds of cards. These fees are per transaction and although the formula is complex, the payment is a significant percentage of many purchases and poses a particular problem for smaller merchants. These fees are estimated to amount to $16 billion to $17 billion annually.