We battle faltering consumer confidence and restrained spending, lowering prices to match our competition and keep our doors open. These are the realities of the economic times we live in, and we accept that. But what we absolutely cannot accept are the astronomical debit card "swipe fees" that allow banks to rob us, and our consumers, of billions of dollars every year.
U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss recognized the stifling effect these excessive fees have on small businesses when they voted for swipe-fee reform, but bills S.575 and H.R. 1081 now threaten to allow big banks to continue lining their pockets on the backs of hard-working, middle-class Georgians.
Big banks deceptively contend swipe fees simply cover the costs of debit and credit card transactions, but we know that taking a 2 percent cut of every transaction far exceeds these costs. Research has shown that the actual cost of processing these transactions scarcely exceeds one cent, but the fees that are actually exacted by big banks and credit card giants amount to a $14 billion loss for merchants. This loss could be used to expand inventory, lower prices and hire additional employees to serve customers. These swipe fees are covering far more than the basic point-of-sale transaction - a fact that card issuers have even admitted as they've lobbied to keep high fees to cover costs, such as operating their call centers.
Big banks are now threatening state governments that they will stop issuing free debit cards for welfare recipients if swipe-fee reform is carried out. The banks and state governments are expecting small businesses to subsidize free debit cards for welfare recipients, despite that we already pay more than our fair share through property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, payroll taxes, etc. We shouldn't be saddled with exorbitant swipe fees under the excuse that they keep free debit cards available to state governments. This not only hurts governments, it also hurts consumers who are forced to shell out more money with each transaction to satisfy the appetite of the Wall Street banks. The banks have unfortunately succeeded in alarming our state treasurer. But swipe fees don't bankroll state programs - they pad the banks' bottom line.
S. 575 and H.R. 1081 are urging the delay of swipe-fee reform, which passed by a bipartisan majority after more-than-adequate study and recommendations from experts on both sides of the debate. The banks say the Federal Reserve should have more time to contemplate the fee reductions, but they have already had ample time to study the issue, and the conclusion is clear. The intention of the big banks is clear: delay swipe-fee reform for as long as possible to continue receiving their egregious profits.
One Wall Street bailout was enough. Is the government really going to drive us into the ground by placing this burden on Main Street's back?
The last thing we want to do is raise prices to cover swipe-fee costs; it harms small businesses and their customers. The more we can lower our costs, the more competitive we can be, and the more goods and services consumers can afford. If we continue to be constrained by swipe fees, the notion of growing, adding jobs, and even maintaining the positions we currently have all gets called into question.
We don't agree with everything that happens in Washington, but on this issue, Sens. Chambliss and Isakson are right on point. Jumpstarting our economy by removing unnecessary obstacles to small-business success is clearly high on their agenda, as evidenced by their votes for swipe-fee reform. We sincerely thank them for sending a clear message that the interests of Wall Street must not trump Main Street.
Sean Jerguson (R-Holly Springs) represents Holly Springs, Sixes and portions of Woodstock in the State House as the District 22 representative.