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Dick Durbin: Bank of America decision a win for consumers

A worker raises the Bank of America flag as a police officer tries to get protestors with Occupy Chicago to move their camp from outside the building October 5, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The protest is one of many around the country being held in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests currently taking place in New York City. Scott Olson

Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Tuesday heralded Bank of America's decision to cancel its plan to charge users $5 monthly debit card fees, calling the decision an indication "that the consumers across America have a much larger voice in this process today than they did even a few weeks ago." 

In remarks on the Senate floor, Durbin called Bank of America's reversal on the policy - which inspired vociferous criticism when the bank announced it last month - "a healthy thing" and a sign of the free-market economy at work.

"I was asked at the time [the policy was announced], 'What should we do?' And I said, customers of these banks should vote with their feet. Start looking for another bank. Find a bank or a credit union that treats them in the manner they want to be treated: fairly and respectfully," Durbin said.

"Well, the message got out," he continued. "And that message ended up creating a substantial move of customers from some banking institutions to others... What we have at work here is a very fundamental principle of our economy - the free-market economy: Transparency, so people know what they are being charged. So they have a choice."

Bank of America announced last month it would be charging a monthly debit card usage fee of $5, starting in December, meant to offset new restrictions on fees that will result in loss of revenues for banks.

Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, SunTrust and Regions Financial banks all threatened similar debt charges - but they too have backed away from the idea.

Some recent protests within the Occupy Wall Street movement, however, drew attention to Bank of America's plans to impose the fee, and the bank's Tuesday decision has taken on some symbolic proportions.

"Through a combination of reasonable regulation and consumers voting with their feet, we are bringing transparency and competition back to the financial services industry," said Durbin. "It is working and it's long overdue. Customers are now saying they'll only do business with banks that care about serving them instead of squeezing them. It's a good thing."

The senator, however, emphasized that there remains a need for increased transparency - and called on his fellow members of Congress to confirm Richard Cordray as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Senate Republicans are refusing to confirm Cordray to lead the bureau, and are calling for a five-member board instead of a single director, as well as for the CFPB's budget to be subject to the appropriations process.

"Something significant has happened over the last several weeks," he said. "I hope it is the beginning of a trend. One way to make sure this trend continues to benefit the consumers and families and small businesses all across America is to make sure that Richard Cordray is appointed as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This, to me, is an agency which can continue this battle."

He said that he disagrees with "the other side of the aisle," which he said doesn't "believe in government oversight of these financial institutions on Wall Street."

"I think Americans deserve to be given the basic information about their financial transactions so that with that information they can make their own decision," he said.

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