Mark Calvey reports in the San Francisco Business Times that Visa Inc. and its banking clients who rely on the San Francisco company’s payment network to handle card transactions are fighting lawmakers on yet another front: the fees merchants pay to process a card transaction.

Three bills in Congress would limit so-called interchange fees when banking issues are the hot topic.

Merchants typically pay interchange fees of 1.6 percent to 2.5 percent. That adds up to big dollars, with U.S. interchange fees reaching $48 billion last year, up 14 percent from 2007.

Some see less support in Congress to curtail fees Visa and other payment networks charge merchants than there was to protect consumers against rising rates and fees through the recently passed Credit CARD Act.

Retailer 7-Eleven last month collected 1.6 million signatures on petitions at its stores, where it asked customers to support limits on interchange fees. The store operator says that a recent rate hike by MasterCard Inc. means the retailer will pay 20 cents, or 20 percent, on a $1 transaction paid for with a MasterCard debit card authorized by using the customer’s PIN. The retailer said it’s not permitted to set minimum purchase limits to pay with plastic.

It’s uncertain whether Congress will act on the proposed legislation, given health care and other issues dominating the agenda.

“We believe that this legislation has no chance of passing this year,” Moshe Orenbuch, an analyst at Credit Suisse said in a research note.

But some believe Congress examining the issue of interchange fees could prompt fee reductions. Visa and MasterCard’s networks handle about 75 percent of card payments.

For its part, Visa debuted an ad campaign in Washington, D.C., this month to tout its role as a payment network and the benefits of paying with its cards, or what Visa likes to call digital currency.

“Because of the reliability and speed of Visa digital currency, people often take it for granted,” said Joseph Saunders, Visa’s CEO and chairman, about the campaign. “Few understand that Visa is a global payments technology company that enables our financial institutions and merchants to deliver the value of electronic payments,” Saunders said. “The more we communicate what Visa is and what exactly we do, the better we will be understood.”