A flurry of last-minute lobbying surrounding debit-interchange regulation begins this week as lawmakers negotiating the final version of the financial-services reform bill stake out their positions on interchange.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., a member of the committee reconciling the Senate and House versions of the bill, on June 13 announced his support for the debit-interchange amendment authored by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. Gutierrez was the first House member of the committee to publicly state his position since the conference began.

“I will work with Senator Durbin and the conferees to make sure the amendment that is finally adopted brings fairness to our electronic-payments system while avoiding unintended consequences for community banks, credit unions and consumers,” Gutierrez said in a joint statement with Durbin.

Durbin’s amendment, which the Senate passed May 13, would permit merchants to set minimum prices for consumers using a card for payment. It also would let merchants offer discounts to consumers using lower-cost forms of payment (see story).

The conference, which began June 10, reconvenes June 15, and House Financial Services Committee staff members expect it to last six to eight days. The process calls for further discussions with Senate conference-committee members to begin the week of June 21.

Payment networks are turning to grass-roots marketing tools to try to persuade lawmakers to exclude the amendment from the financial services reform bill.

Visa Inc., for example, today announced the results of a telephone survey Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates conducted for the card brand June 2 to 6 involving 1,000 U.S. adults. The results, Visa says, reveal consumer skepticism about the potential effects of Durbin’s amendment.

According to Visa, 83% of respondents said they would oppose the amendment if it would result in higher fees for debit cardholders. Some 75% of respondents would oppose overall financial-services reform if it would result in consumers having to pay more to use a debit card, and 60% said they believe retailers should bear the cost of accepting credit and debit cards.

PaymentsSource was unable to get a copy of the survey to review how the questions were phrased.

“Consumers are sending a very clear message to Congress: This amendment is wrong and amounts to nothing more than a government bailout of big retailers at the expense of hardworking Americans,” Bill Sheedy, Visa group executive for the Americas, said in a statement.

MasterCard Worldwide this week turned up the heat on its own grass-roots efforts to counter Durbin’s amendment, sending e-mail alerts to consumers and merchants urging them to contact lawmakers to oppose it.

In his joint statement with Gutierrez this week, Durbin said the current interchange system is “unsustainable.” Besides businesses and consumers, it hurts charities, government agencies and universities accepting credit and debit cards as a form of payment, he said.

“There is virtually no competition and no recourse for merchants exploited by the rate structure and fees mandated by Visa and MasterCard,” Durbin said.

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