Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra -Soothing business, suing business

President Barack Obama had some soothing words for business leaders at the White House today, telling them that, despite some impressions to the contrary, he was really on their side after all. Financial regulatory reform was necessary, but “it is important now that there is a period of healing and consolidation and implementation that is less disruptive.”

Presumably the head of American Express was not invited to the meeting, on the day that the Justice Department decided to sue the company, saying its rules preventing merchants from encouraging consumers to use cheaper, rival cards violate antitrust law.amex It is the latest salvo in the administration’s battle with credit card companies, who it accuses of scalping consumers. Amex typically charges higher fees to merchants than rival cards, with the justification that its clients are richer and spend more.

Advocates of the government’s action say credit cards cost significantly more in the United States than abroad, and tough measures are required to open up the market and protect consumers. But the American Bankers Association expressed some valid doubts that merchants would actually pass on any savings from the Justice Department’s action to those consumers.

At the Chamber of Commerce, wounds are also still raw. It is waging its own legal battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission over a rule to give shareholders more power to influence corporate boards, a rule it called arbitrary and capricious. A small victory for the Chamber today, after the SEC announced it would delay implementation of the rule pending the outcome of the legal challenge.

Here are our top stories from Washington today…

U.S. sues Amex; Visa and MasterCard settle

The U.S. Justice Department sued American Express Co, saying its rules preventing merchants from encouraging consumers to use cheaper, rival credit cards violate antitrust law. Simultaneously, the Justice Department settled with Visa Inc and MasterCard Inc, which agreed to allow merchants to offer discounts to consumers who use less expensive types of credit or debit cards.

The First Draft: Presidential e-mail

SUNDANCE/If you just can’t get enough of the goings and doings of President Barack Obama, can’t wait for the blog posts, Twitter tweets, Washington whispers or even the newspaper and magazine stories about the U.S. chief executive, now there’s help. You can sign up for e-mails from the president. He sent his first one Wednesday. It’s hardly a window on the inner workings of the White House but it is a new way to communicate.

“My staff and I plan to use these messages as a way to directly communicate about important issues and opportunities, and today I have some encouraging updates about health care reform,” wrote in his first message, also posted here. “The Vice President and I just met with leaders from the House of Representatives and received their commitment to pass a comprehensive health care reform bill by July 31.”

He ended the note with,

“Thank you,
“Barack Obama”

and then added a postscript:

“P.S. If you’d like to get more in-depth information about health reform and how you can participate, be sure to visit http://www.HealthReform.gov”

from LEGACY Reuters Summits:

Credit card stories? She’s heard ‘em all

Democratic lawmaker Carolyn Maloney

Democratic lawmaker Carolyn MaloneyListen to Rep. Carolyn Maloney tell how she became interested in credit card reform legislation

Tired of your mailbox being jammed with unsolicited credit card offers boasting too-good-to-be-true introductory rates and confusing terms in tiny print?

So is Carolyn Maloney. But as the chairman of Congress' Joint Economic Committee, Maloney can actually do something about it.

First Draft: It’s Take-Your-Kids-To-The-White-House Day!

MASTERCARD/AMERICANEXPRESSJust as the cherry tree blossoms pass their peak and not long after the Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn, there’s another hallowed Washington spring tradition: Take Your Child To Work Day. That’s when Type A parents with Type A jobs bring their kids to the office to give them some idea of what Mom and Dad do for a living — and that includes people who work at the White House, the State Department and on Capitol Hill.

First Lady Michelle Obama hosts the under-age crowd at the White House, with an event in the East Room at mid-morning. Her husband, President Barack Obama, is expected to be otherwise engaged then, and later is set to meet with credit card company executives, and it might not be suitable for children: presidential aides have labeled some of the companies’ practices “abusive.”

At the State Department, Secretary Hillary Clinton welcomes the kids at an event that, in keeping with discreet diplomacy, is closed to the press. Children and their working parents are also expected to visit Capitol Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is an enthusiastic supporter of the event.