GOP Blocks Credit Card Bill, Endorses Skyrocketing Interest Rates

AP070723055433Back in May, Congress approved and the President signed legislation reforming the credit card industry, ensuring that credit card companies couldn’t raise rates for no reason or retroactively increase rates on existing balances. However, most of the new rules don’t go into effect until February, 2010.

In the interim, banks have been jacking up rates left and right. In fact, half of Americans report that their credit card rates have been raised in the past six months. According to Pew Charitable Trusts’ Safe Credit Cards Project, the lowest interest rates offered on most bank cards “jumped by more than 20 percent” in that time.

To deal with this problem (which is significantly of their own making), Democrats crafted a bill bumping up the implementation date of the new regulations and freezing interest rates until the new laws come into effect. The bill was approved by the House on a vote of 331-92 earlier this month.

Due to a packed floor schedule, there was no stomach in the Senate for a prolonged fight over credit cards. So, as Ryan Grim noted “the only way Democrats could pass the bill in time for the holidays would be with the support of the GOP.”

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) tried to do just that yesterday, with the support of Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), by asking for unanimous consent to bring the bill to the floor. However, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) objected “on behalf of several senators on this side of the aisle,” killing the whole effort. Watch it:

According to Pew, none of the credit cards currently offered online by the 12 largest U.S. banks “would meet requirements of new federal curbs on the industry’s rates and fees.” But Republicans still saw fit to allow the credit card companies to do whatever they want until the new rules comes into effect next year.

As the Coloradoan reported, “Republicans didn’t explain their decision to block a vote…beyond Cochran’s short objection.” Dodd, clearly expecting an objection, lamented that a bill “that would really have allowed us to do something meaningful” was being derailed.

This is, sadly, exactly how the rest of the financial regulatory reform debate is going. Yesterday, Senate Republicans said that “there is no support within the GOP for the financial overhaul plan outlined last week by Democrats.” “My understanding is that it’s not acceptable to any of the Republicans on the [banking] committee as it now stands,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

That’s right. In the wake of the financial crisis, not one Republican is prepared to vote for regulatory reform. And the reason is that “they think the plan goes too far by putting onerous restrictions on Wall Street that could limit the availability of credit.” So by preventing the credit card bill from going forward — and by uniting in opposition against wider regulatory reform — the GOP is endorsing the credit card companies’ actions and the wider return to rampant risk on Wall Street.