Ryan Grim writes at the Huffington Post that Navdeep Bassi is tired of sending money to Wall Street for nothing. Over the past year, the owner of four 7-Elevens in Orange County, California, has been haranguing his customers about the swipe fees he is forced to pay big banks and major credit card companies, asking them to sign a petition in opposition to the fees.
“When we told them how much we pay, they are very supportive,” Bassi said as he crossed Constitution Avenue, headed for the U.S. Capitol on Thursday morning. “They keep coming back to us, asking us what is happening.”
Bassi may have good news for his customers when he returns. What is happening is that a coalition of merchants are on the brink of defeating the combined lobbying muscle of Wall Street, community banks and credit unions, which enjoy a system that functions to skim the profits from small businesses across the country.
Bassi convinced 6,000 people to sign on in the store where he works most often. His four stores combined collected 11,000 signatures. In September, the merchants coalition delivered 1.7 million signatures to Washington, said Keith Jones, a top 7-Eleven lobbyist, who is escorting Bassi and two fellow 7-Eleven franchisees around the halls of Congress Thursday following a rally of more than 100 small business owners from across the country. Bassi, said Jones, pulled in more signatures than any other merchant.
The small businessmen have flown in to urge Wall Street reform conferees to support the Durbin-Welch amendment, which aims to rein in excessive debit and credit card fees. It passed with broad bipartisan support in the Senate and has solid support among House conferees, despite fierce bank opposition. The small businesses are aligned with big businesses such as Walmart, which pays out millions in fees. Big governments get cleaned out, too. A U.S. Treasury report earlier this week showed that the federal government loses more than $116 million a year in swipe fees for credit and debit card purchases. State and local governments spend millions more for nothing. Advocates of reform say that Wall Street has persuaded the smaller banks and credit unions to do their bidding on this issue, knowing that their reputation is toxic; the small banks say they’re working for their own benefit.
HuffPost checked back in with Bassi in the afternoon. “Meetings are doing very well. We’re getting very good response,” he said. The word is, he said, that a vote could come as early as Tuesday. 7-Eleven helped fund his trip to Washington, said Bassi, but he still spent about $1,500 out of pocket for the trip, he said. That’s chump change if Bassi can win this fight — he pays about $40,000 a year on swipe fees, he said.
Steve Verdier, a lobbyist with the Independent Community Bankers Association, told HuffPost that a Tuesday vote certainly seemed possible. “We are working it hard,” said Verdier after meeting with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (who didn’t indicate to the lobbyists were he stood). The merchants, said Verdier, are being disingenuous to portray it as a David versus Goliath struggle.
“Here it’s a question of merchants or banks. It’s big-box merchants against community banks in many cases,” he said, arguing that the fees aren’t excessive. “The fees are our cost of doing business. A lot of the costs are about maintaining the network and guarding against fraud.”
Read more at the Huffington Post