Johnson, Carper Targeted by Credit Card Lobbyists

Posted May 4, 2009 at 8:51am

Sen. Tim Johnson, a low-profile, South Dakota lawmaker, is one of a handful of Democrats at the center of a banking industry lobbying blitz this week aimed at strangling a bill in the Senate that would impose tougher credit card lending rules.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to bring the measure to the floor this week, knowing he needs 60 votes to overcome GOP-led procedural roadblocks. Democratic leaders have not yet whipped the bill, and by late last week, the final language of the legislation was still being sorted out by top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.Johnson, a senior member of the Banking panel whose state has about 20,000 jobs tied to the credit card industry, voted against the measure in committee. But Johnson’s spokesman indicated that his committee vote was not his final word on credit card legislation.“We understand negotiations are going on, and we’ll judge the legislation when it comes to the floor,— the spokesman said. Johnson, at the Banking Committee markup last week, said the bill would move beyond new federal lending rules issued in December and could restrict consumer access to affordable credit.“At a time when Americans are already seeing their credit card interest rates rise and their credit limits decrease, this legislation could mean that even fewer consumers get credit — and lines of credit are greatly reduced,— Johnson said. “I will not vote for legislation that could worsen, not improve, that situation.—Johnson is not the only Democratic Senator targeted by banking lobbyists — and not the only vote up in the air.Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), whose state is home to numerous credit card firms, is a likely target for the banking industry. But Carper last week said he may be open to a compromise bill. No Republicans have publicly supported the legislation so far, but Reid will need the vote of at least one GOP Senator to shut off a filibuster, assuming all 59 Democratic and Independent Senators support it.The Senate bill, sponsored by Banking Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), offers more protection for credit card holders than does similar legislation passed last week by the House. For example, the Senate plan places limits on credit card fees and does not allow lenders to charge interest on those fees — elements not contained in the House bill.House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said price caps on fees could have led to the bill’s defeat in the House. He also warned that caps could encourage irresponsible use of credit cards. Reid acknowledged a tough fight ahead, but he noted the strong support President Barack Obama has offered for the legislation and said he is committed to bringing it to the floor.“This is something that the American people want us to do,— Reid said. “I think it’s important to do that, and we’re going to do that.—The American Bankers Association, a group that represents many credit-card-issuing banks, is not backing down. The group’s president, Edward Yingling, issued a statement after the House vote on Thursday calling for a final bill with “the right balance— between enhancing consumer protections and ensuring credit is available to consumers and small business at low prices.“We continue to believe that more work needs to be done to achieve that balance,— he said.Whatever compromise is reached, Frank warned credit card issuers to not abuse the time before new rules take effect. “We were told they needed more time to get things ready,— Frank said last week. “If that time is used to take advantage of consumers and get in some last licks, I will urge the Senate to speed up the date.—