WASHINGTON - Last night several hundred credit union executives geared up for today's meetings with lawmakers on interchange by nibbling on hors d'oeuvres and listening to speeches from CUNA leaders.
"I am not leaving without a fight. We're here to do what's right," CUNA President/CEO Dan Mica told the group.
Mica, who is leaving office next month, joked in an interview that "I thought I would spend my last weeks packing up my office and looking at old pictures but then this came up and it is so important that we take our message to Congress because we wear the white hats."
CUNA Chairman Harriet May said "your job is to stand up for what credit unions stand for."
Participants said they were moved to lobby on the issue because higher interchange fees would hurt their bottom line.
Schools First FCU in Orange County, California planned to focus on the impact of higher interchange fees on their members and brought five of them to Washington to make their case.
"Because of the budget crisis, our members are losing jobs or having their salaries cut because of furloughs. The last thing they need is more fees," said Shelly Berryman, the credit union's director of member advocacy.
NAFCU is also bringing in members this week to make their case as are the Independent Community Bankers of America.
But those pushing for lower interchange fees, including the National Retail Federation, are also planning a show of grassroots support by bringing several hundred members to Washington, D.C. this week.
House and Senate conferees are scheduled to begin meeting tomorrow to reconcile the two regulatory overhaul bills passed by the respective chambers.
The interchange amendment, which is in the Senate version of the bill but not the one passed by the House, authorizes the Federal Reserve to ensure that debit card fees are "reasonable and proportional," in relation to processing costs. It excludes credit unions and community banks with assets of less than $10 billion. It also allows merchants to set a minimum or maximum amount for each transaction and let them offer additional discounts for using a certain type of card or cash.