The American Bankers Association contends the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission oppose the Credit Card Fair Fee Act of 2008, the House bill that would give merchants and providers of electronic payment systems immunity from antitrust laws to negotiate and agree on raters and terms for accessing the system, appoint electronic payment system judges to make rulings about access rates and terms for accessing payments systems, and describes how those judges would conduct proceedings. U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., introduced the bill March 6. The association has distributed two letters from the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission that express reservations about the bill, although they do not specifically oppose it. The association released a letter signed by William E. Kovacic, FTC chairman, to Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, suggesting the bill would grant an antitrust exemption to banks and merchants to "negotiate jointly the interchange rates and terms for merchants' access to a consumer credit card payment system of a certain size." The letter is dated June 19. "As a general matter, the commission has long disfavored exemptions from the antitrust laws," the letter states. The Justice Department letter dated June 23 released by the association, is somewhat more direct. The letter says the bill could harm consumers because credit card networks that collect less from merchants might charge consumers more. Moreover, it could reduce competition between payment card networks and impose inflexibility on terms and fees for merchants and networks, the letter states. "These letters make it clear that the legislation being strongly pushed by the retailers contains provisions that are plainly anticompetitive and would violate fundamental antitrust principles," Edward Yingling, ABA president and CEO, says in a statement. The bill currently has 39 cosponsors. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., introduced a similar bill in the Senate June 5.

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