- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Senate on Tuesday approved sweeping credit card reform legislation that would significantly limit the industry’s powers, though an amendment loosening gun laws at national parks riled liberal Democrats and nature conservationists.

The measure, which passed on a 90-5 vote, curbs credit card companies’ ability to increase interest rates and assess fees and penalties on consumers. The House easily passed a similar version earlier this month, and the bill could go to President Obama by the end of the week.

“This is a victory for every American consumer who has ever suffered at the hands of a credit card company,” said Senate banking committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, who sponsored the Senate bill.

House Democratic leaders say they may vote to accept the Senate version as early as Wednesday.

Passage has been complicated by the gun rights provision inserted into the Senate version by Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican. The amendment would allow national park visitors to carry concealed firearms unless otherwise prohibited by state law.



Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat and lead sponsor of the House version of the bill, called Mr. Coburn’s amendment “wacky.”

“Tacking on guns in parks to a strong consumer bill simply makes no sense,” she said.

The measure has been panned by the powerful banking industry, which warned that the bill could lead card issuers to raise rates and reduce credit availability to protect themselves from the new rules.

“We are concerned that the Senate bill will have a dramatic impact on the ability of consumers, students and small businesses to obtain and use credit cards,” said Edward L. Yingling, president and chief executive of the American Bankers Association.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said the chamber likely will split the Senate measure into two parts to allow members to vote separately on the Coburn amendment.

He added that he did not expect the House to make other changes to the bill, allowing it to be sent directly to the White House.

The gun provision, which is supported by Republicans and conservative Democrats, is expected to survive, but not without some pushback.

Theresa Pierno, executive vice president of the National Parks Conservation Association, accused the gun lobby of hijacking the bill and said its passage would make the national parks less safe.

“It will increase the risk of poaching and vandalism of historic resources and put visitors at risk,” she said.

The Senate version prohibits credit card companies from increasing interest rates on existing balances unless a cardholder is at least 60 days behind payment. Rates on accounts without any delinquencies would be frozen during the first year of the account.

Any interest-rate increase would be subject to a periodic review and would be lowered if the review determined the increase was arbitrary or unfair.

Credit card issuers would have to notify cardholders 45 days in advance of any increase in interest rates, fees and finance charges. Statements would be required to be mailed 21 days before the bill is due, rather than the current 14 days.

The measure also would prohibit credit card companies from charging interest on paid-off balances from a previous billing cycle, commonly referred to as a “double-cycle billing ban,” and make it tougher for anyone under 21 to open an account.

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