Transcript: Thom Hartmann: The Big Picture: Wal Mart vs. Wall Street - When elephants fight - the mice get trampled. 8 June '11
Today - two lobbying giants were pitted against each other in the United States Senate. It was Wal Mart versus Wall Street on the issue of debit card swipe fees. Besides oil barons and health insurance CEOs - good luck trying to find two industries that spend more on lobbying than these two heavyweights.
If only I can think of a good metaphor here…
That’s right - the irresistible force - Wal Mart and other giant retail merchants that get pretty much whatever they want from Congress - up against the immovable object - Wall Street - an industry that’s practically untouchable.
The issue at hand is the $16 billion in debit card swipe fees that retail merchants have to fork over to the banksters every year so that you and I can use plastic when we buy stuff. As part of some new federal regulations set to go into effect next month - these outrageous swipe fees will be reigned in and capped - depriving big banks of over $1 billion a month in more revenue.
Needless to say - the Wall Street lobby was scrambling to delay these new regulations - saying small banks that are dependent on the swipe fees could suffer. That's why Senator Jon Tester introduced an amendment today to delay these new regulations.
But on the other side of the fight - retail merchants like Wal Mart also have a powerful lobby on the Hill - and they’re throwing their weight around too, claiming that the swipe fees cripple retailers.
In fact - there’s been so much lobbying activity on Capitol Hill over this bill - that Senators have dubbed it “The K Street Full Employment Act” - and it's put lawmakers in a tough position. As Senator Mark Pryor from Arkansas said candidly, “This is one of those where people have friends on both sides of it.”
I guess that’s unlike legislation to raise the minimum wage - or to prohibit for-profit health insurance abuses - or cap carbon emissions, where lawmakers only have friends on ONE side of the aisle - transnational corporations.
So while banksters and corporations duked it out - what did this bill mean for the rest of us?
Not much. We’ll be able to use our debit cards either way. It just came down to who will keep footing the bill for the cost of these transactions - the retailers - as they currently do - or the banks.
Ultimately - the immovable object known as Wall Street was the loser in today's fight - Senator Tester's amendment was defeated - and the swipe fees will be cut down starting next month. But that's not really all that important.
What's important is why this bill was even on the Senate calendar for today - especially with all the other problems facing the 99% of us who haven't made millions in the retail business or on Wall Street?
Actually - it wasn't just today - this swipe fee bill has been priority number one in the Senate for quite a while. While you may think our Senate has been hard at work trying to raise the debt ceiling and get people back to work - they’ve ACTUALLY been working on this swipe card fee bill all year.
And that’s because there’s a lot of corporate cash at stake - and thus A LOT of lobbying going on behind closed doors. And this debate strikes right to the heart of what’s wrong with politics in America.
Instead of considering legislation based on the best interest of the country - Congress considers legislation based on the highest bidder - the corporate giants. And when elephants fight - the mice get trampled.
Who knows what legislation is being pushed back on the Senate calendar to handle this showdown between two lobbying powerhouses - it could be the debt limit - a jobs bill - help for the 99ers - war funding…who knows?
But one thing is clear about Congress - unless you are willing and able to pass out millions of dollars - good luck getting lawmakers to pay attention to your gripes. And there's only two ways around this "pay to play" scheme.
One - 99ers and people opposed to the war could theoretically hire high-priced lobbyists like Evan Bayh or Ralph Reed - though there isn't much profit to be made in helping the unemployed or ending wars.
So that leaves option two - kick the Hulk Hogans and Andre the Giants of the lobbying world out of Capitol Hill.
We need campaign reform and lobbying reform NOW.
There should only be one irresistable force - and that's the will of the people.
And only one immovable object - our democracy.
That's The Big Picture.