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Obama Calls For Credit Card Bill By Memorial Day

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Obama on Thursday made his latest appeal for Congress to pass credit card reform legislation by Memorial Day, but he also suggested American consumers need to take more personal responsibility for debt.

At a town hall meeting at Rancho Rio High School in Rio Rancho, N.M., the president urged the Congress to finish up the deliberations, which could wrap up this week, over the Credit Card Holders' Bill of Rights, a bill that would give consumers greater protections from deceptive and unfair practices by credit card companies.

"There's no time for delay," Mr. Obama said. "It's time to get it done. We can't depend on profits that depend on misleading American families--those days are over."

The president said New Mexico supported him in the presidential election in the hopes that, "after an era of selfishness and greed, we could reclaim a sense of responsiblity... In a time of great inequality, we could restore a sense of fairness to our economy."

The Obama administration has lobbied hard for Congress to present him with a bill to sign by Memorial Day. He has urged the passage of the bill in his weekly radio address, and last month the president and his economic advisers met with 14 executives from credit card companies to discuss the impact of the current economic crisis on consumers.

The president said the executives he met with agreed any reforms shouldn't diminish access to credit. However, he said that consumers have to take more responsiblity as well.

"This is not free money, it's debt," he said. "We expect consumers to make sound choices and live within their means."

Banks have a right to insist that timely payments are made, he said, but with "the same sense of responsiblity that the American people aspire to in ther own lives."

The president's urgent call for credit card reform is an appealing message for the millions of consumers currently relying on credit to stay afloat during the economic recession. The Center for Responsible Lending this month showed that, within the last six months, the top eight credit card issuers have all increased the interest rates on existing balances for some of their account holders for no particular reason. The organization says an estimated 10 million account holders may have been impacted.

"You should not have to worry when you sign up for a credit card, you're signing away all your rights," Mr. Obama said Thursday.

Congress has responded to the president's message by pushing forward the Credit Card Holders' Bill of Rights. Differences remain between the House and Senate versions, but both would ban fees for customers who pay over the phone and prevent credit card companies from issuing cards to anyone under 18. The bill would ban retroactive interest rate increases except in certain cases, and it also would require that customers be notified of rate increases 45 days in advance.

The House passed its version of the bill on April 30. The Senate is expected to pass its version this week, after debating more than 20 amendments to the legislation. Senate Democrats and Republicans made some critical compromises over the bill on Monday.

Opponents of the legislation say more regulations on credit card companies will only further restrict credit at a time when it is most needed.

"There's no one on either side of the aisle who does not want to have more transparency so that people know what they're getting into and what they're dealing with," Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), a member of the House Financial Services Committee, told last month. "But with the credit market already tightening, now is not the time to make it even more difficult for the moderate-income family, with even more reasons to rely on his credit card, to find out he can't get one."