Big Business' Lobbying Is Fueling America's Inflationary Woes | Opinion

America's biggest retailers are raking in massive profits, even as the American people struggle to make ends meet. This year, as inflation rates set 40-year highs, big box stores are looking to make record profit margins. Now, some of those retailers have set their sights on consumers' credit cards to further grow their bottom lines.

In July, the average price for everyday items like gas, groceries, and housing was eight and a half percent higher than the previous year. Those numbers feel even more stark when combined with the National Retail Federation's prediction that retailers should see six to eight percent growth in 2022. But that might just scratch the surface.

A recent study by Accountable.US found that big box stores like Kroger, CVS, and T.J. Maxx all increased prices unnecessarily during the height of the COVID pandemic and subsequent inflation. Overall, the study found that the top 10 largest retailers in the nation grew their collective profits by almost $25 million between 2020 and 2021, a period when the American economy was crippled by COVID closures.

grocery store
People stand at the check-out counter after shopping at a grocery supermarket in Alhambra, California, on July 13, 2022. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

But the record profits go beyond the checkout line and extend to the gas pump, too. On June 14, the national average cost for a gallon of gas spiked to over $5, almost a 40 percent spike from what it cost on the same date in 2021. According to the National Association of Convenience Stores, convenience stores and gas stations set a record for store sales last year. They collected a staggering $705.7 billion in sales.

Now, as Americans pinch their pennies to get by, big retailers and gas station merchants are teaming up to squeeze them with a hidden tax on their credit cards. They are pushing legislation in Congress called the Credit Card Competition Act, which would take credit card choice away from consumers and put it in the hands of merchants. And if it passes, it will cost consumers dearly.

Right now, when you use your credit card, that transaction takes place on the network that you chose. The Credit Card Competition Act would change that. It would enable the retailers to pick which network your financial transaction is carried over. The reason they want it so badly? Even more profits.

Merchants pay a small fee on credit transactions. That fee, known as interchange, is what credit card issuers use to provide benefits to consumers like no-fee cards, security, cash back, and rewards programs. Retailers want to choose the cheapest network available, regardless of the consequences to consumers. This change could lead to millions of Americans losing access to credit, higher fees for consumers, less secure transactions, and the loss of other benefits like cash back programs.

Losing rewards programs isn't just about the rich upgrading from business to first class. A recent study by Axios found that 45 percent of Americans now rely on credit card reward programs to help pay for everyday expenses. If this legislation becomes law, those Americans will be left holding the bag.

Big retail and merchants have seen record profit margins over the past few years. Congress shouldn't allow them to take control of our credit cards so they can make even more money.

Bay Buchanan served as the 37th Treasurer of the United States.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.