GOP Blocks Freeze On Credit Card Interest Rate Hikes

Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic effort Wednesday to immediately freeze increases in credit card interest rates, fees and finance charges.

Shortly after Democrats passed credit card reform legislation in May, the card companies began jacking up rates in advance of its implementation. Major parts of the act won't take effect until February and August of 2010.

Earlier this month, to combat the rate hikes, the House passed legislation to move the effective date up to December 1st. The Senate moves much more slowly and the credit card industry has been arguing that it can't practically get its act together to implement the reforms that quickly.

Okay, said Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who sponsored the original bill that passed 90-5. Instead of implementing the entire basket of reforms, Dodd proposed instead simply freezing interest rate and fee hikes in advance of the holidays. Surely, he said, that's not too difficult to implement.

"We worked long and hard to enact the safeguards included in the Credit CARD Act," said Dodd. "And no sooner had it been signed into law, but credit card companies were looking for ways to get around the protections this Congress and the American people demanded. This bill would end those abuses and further protect customers today."

The Senate schedule is packed with nominations, health care and appropriations bills, leaving no time for a prolonged floor fight over credit cards.

The only way Democrats could pass the bill in time for the holidays would be with the support of the GOP -- all but five of which voted for it initially.

Dodd, on Wednesday afternoon, asked for unanimous consent to move the bill forward.

"On behalf of several senators on this side of the aisle, I object," said Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). And that's the end of it.

The Senate moved on to a tribute to the service of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who became the longest-serving senator in the history of the institution Wednesday.