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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It's been a long road to swipe fee reform, and the battle could be drawing to a close as a vote on an amendment to delay any such reform is expected when the U.S. Senate returns from recess June 6.
NACS – the Association for Convenience & Petroleum Retailing -- is putting its all into defeating that amendment, introduced by Sen. John Tester (D-MT) first as a two-year delay and now as a 15-month delay. The new version of Tester's bill would allow for a six-month study (one NACS contends is flawed), six months for the Federal Reserve to rewrite the rules based on the study results and three months for implementation.
"This bill was clearly written on behalf of the banks with the study required only looking at the banks' profitability," Lyle Beckwith, senior vice president of government relations at NACS, said in a conference call this morning.
Adding that the revised bill "is worse than the initial one," Beckwith said NACS has sent an announcement to all local associations to speak out against delaying any reform and, in fact, there will be a meeting this afternoon in Alaska. "We are making what we hope is the final call to action for our members," Beckwith said.
No date has been set for a vote on Tester's bill, which is supported across the aisle by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), but Beckwith said NACS is preparing for a vote to occur either the week of June 6 or June 13. Another unknown is how many senators will vote in favor of the bill. "We are in a good position right now based on the fact that they would need 60 votes to pass the Tester amendment," Beckwith explained. However, he added that many senators are in the neutral zone and their votes can go either way.
In addition, Beckwith said Tester and Corker can attempt to make deals with their colleagues to win votes. "We don't know what the final bill will look like to get more votes," he said.
As for any similar delay movement in the House of Representatives, Beckwith explained that Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) indicated the House would not vote on the issue unless the Senate takes action; the definition of “action” is unclear. "There has been some different interpretations of action," Beckwith said. "We believe that if the Senate doesn't pass this, then it ends."
However, if the Senate votes and the tally is close, then the banks may push for a House vote, he said. "If we can get over 50 votes, this will probably end," Beckwith said. "We don't just want to win; we want to win big."
And while the debate still rages on the Hill, it remains to be seen when the Federal Reserve is going to issue its final rule on the matter. The rule was slated to be announced on April 21, with implementation set for July 21. However in April, Chairman Ben Bernanke said the Fed would not meet the April 21 date but fully expected to set a rule by July 21. "Bernanke has said the Fed will hit the July date, but that is the date for implementation so there would need to be a rule soon so banks can have time to implement," Beckwith explained.
"Any vote on this issue is important and any vote we've had on this issue we have won, but the only reason is because retailers have picked up the phone and told their legislators how they feel," he said. "They need to do this now."
To help retailers get the message across, NACS has posted a letter online at nacsonline.com/swipefees for retailers to access.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) is also stepping up its efforts to defeat any delay motions. It has joined with the North Dakota Retail Association and the North Dakota Petroleum Marketers Association to air radio ads urging North Dakota Senators Kent Conrad and John Hoeven to oppose Tester's bill. In addition, the NRF has teamed up with the West Virginia Retailers Association to launch a similar radio campaign to urge Senators John Rockefeller and Joe Manchin to do the same.
The one-minute ads are part of NRF's 60-day lobbying, grassroots and media campaign to get swipe fee reform implemented this summer. NRF began its efforts last week when it partnered with the Montana Retail Association to air the ads on Tester's home turf.