Nearly 500 restaurateurs from 44 states are on Capitol Hill today calling on their congressional members to fight the tactics of big banks and debit-card companies seeking to halt much-needed reforms to a broken market for debit-card swipe fees. The Hill meetings are part of the National Restaurant Association’s 25th Annual Public Affairs Conference being held in Washington this week.

The National Restaurant Association and its members, along with the Merchants Payment Coalition, have fought successfully for reforms to the broken debit-card swipe fee market. In 2010, Congress passed the Durbin Amendment, which instructs the Federal Reserve to ensure that the debit-card swipe fees merchants are charged when guests pay by debit cards are in line with what it costs to process transactions.

In December 2010, the Federal Reserve issued draft rules to enforce the law, proposing to scale back merchants debit-card swipe fees from an average of 44 cents per transaction to a cap of 7 to 12 cents per transaction under the “reasonable and proportional” standard set by the law. But now big banks and debit card companies are trying to delay the reforms, scheduled to go into effect July 21, 2011.

“Every month that passes without debit-card swipe fee reform is another $1.3 billion out of the pockets of small businesses and their customers,” said Scott DeFife, executive vice president of Policy and Government Affairs for the National Restaurant Association. “Members of Congress should stand with their constituents and Main Street and fight tactics designed to halt these needed reforms.”

Specifically, the restaurateurs are calling on their congressional members to oppose S. 575, sponsored by Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), which calls for a two-year study and delay, and H.R. 1081, sponsored by Shelley Moore Capito (D-W.V.), which would delay rules by at least a year.

Also during their Hill meetings, restaurateurs are advocating for significant changes to the health care law; a fair, equitable and permanent 15-year depreciation schedule for restaurant improvements/new construction; improved access to credit; and changes to proposed “gainful employment” regulations, among other issues.

Held April 13-15 at Washington’s Renaissance Hotel, the National Restaurant Association’s 25th annual Public Affairs Conference gives restaurateurs the opportunity to interact with members of Congress and share their perspective on the challenges of owning and operating restaurants.

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