WASHINGTON – Turning up the heat in the battle over debit fees, Senator Richard Durbin vowed yesterday to filibuster a growing move to delay the Fed’s interchange rule, throwing new hurdles in the way of delay efforts.
The Illinois Democrat said he expects to support a filibuster of a bill to delay the interchange rule for as long as two years, meaning the bill would need 60 Senate votes for passage. He noted that he had to clear the 60-vote margin to get the interchange amendment included in last year’s Wall Street reform bill, and “that’s the burden that anyone who wants to repeal it ... is going to face as well,” Durbin said during a conference call yesterday with reporters.
A 60-vote count will be a steep hurdle because the interchange amendment passed the Senate on a 67-to-33 vote. Counting retirements, that means about 20 senators are going to have to change their minds.
Durbin, the powerful assistant Senate Majority Leader of the Senate, said he asked his colleagues to delay a debate on their bill until after April 21, when the Federal Reserve is scheduled to approve final details of the rule. “They are trying to stop or delay rules that have not been written,” he said of the bill, introduced in the Senate last week.
The Fed has proposed capping debit interchange fees for large banks – those with more than $10 billion in assets – at 12 cents per transaction, representing a cut of as much as two-thirds from the current rate.
The stakes are enormous – an estimated $20 billion a year in debit fees, as much as $2.5 billion of it going to credit unions.
Separately, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke this week told bankers the Fed will do everything it can to ensure that the exemption from the fee cap for banks and credit unions with less than $10 billion in assets is meaningful.
The Central Bank chief told the Independent Community Bankers of America Wednesday the Fed “is quite aware” that Congress never intended for small banks and credit unions to be subject to the proposed limits. “In our rule-writing we will do everything we can and use all the powers we have to try to make sure that the carve-out is effective,” he said.