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Larger Dem Majority Good News for Credit Card Reformers

Just off the phone with Travis Plunkett, the legislative director of the Consumer Federation of America, who points out an important advantage that the recent elections have lent to supporters of credit card reform legislation: The larger Democratic majority in the Senate next year means that the Senate Banking Committee will seat a few more Democrats.

That’s significant because Democrats currently command just a one-seat advantage on the panel (11-10), and two of those Dems — Tim Johnson (S.D.) and Tom Carper (Del.) — would likely join Republicans in protecting the banks against legislation restricting, among other things, abusive fees, rate hikes and marketing practices for credit cards. (The reason is simple: A bank that’s collecting fewer late fees is a bank that’s making less money than it was the year before.) Both Delaware and South Dakota are home to major credit card operations.

It’s unclear how the panel’s party ratio will break down next year. (The race in Minnesota is still undecided). But Plunkett said the Dems could pick up two or three additional seats, which would be plenty to overcome the presumed opposition of Johnson and Carper. That spells good news for Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who has a credit card reform bill written and ready to reintroduce next year. Indeed, consumer advocates are cautiously optimistic that 2009 will be the year that bill is enacted.

“It’s gonna be close,” Plunkett said.

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