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Federal Reserve Fights Durbin Ruling

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Even the retailers are siding with the Federal Reserve in its request for a stay of U.S. district court Judge Richard J. Leon's orders regarding the Durbin Amendment, while the regulator prepares an appeal.

After a group of retailers sued the Federal Reserve on the grounds that its implementation of the Durbin Amendment was insufficient, Judge Leon in Washington ruled on July 31 that the Federal Reserve had "clearly disregarded Congress's statutory intent by inappropriately inflating all debit card transaction fees by billions of dollars and failing to provide merchants with multiple unaffiliated networks for each debit transaction." The judge effectively sent the regulator back to the drawing board.

But the Fed in a court hearing Wednesday said it would file an appeal against the ruling, and requested a stay of the judge's ruling, saying it lacked the authority to impose an interim set of rules on Durbin. Even the merchants who sued the Fed agreed that a stay beyond Aug. 28 would be best for them, because without a stay, the Fed's rules would be temporarily thrown out, meaning the banks could go back to charging whatever they wanted to process debit card purchase transactions for the merchants.

How ironic.

The Durbin Amendment -- named after Senator Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) -- is part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which President Obama signed into law in July 2010. The Durbin Amendment placed limits on the interchange fees paid by merchants to large banks to process debit card purchase transactions, while also giving retailers more choice in which network to use to route debit card payments.

The idea of Durbin was to lower debit-purchase-transaction processing costs, so that savings to merchants could be passed to consumers through lower prices.

The Federal Reserve in December 2010 estimated the average debit card interchange fee paid during 2009 was 44 cents, and initially proposed a cap on interchange fees at 12 cents. After the usual comment period, the Fed in June 2011 issued its final ruling, for an interchange fee cap of 21 cents, plus an additional "5 basis points multiplied by the value of the transaction."

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