WASHINGTON (5/26/11)--As the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), leagues and credit unions nationwide enter a “critical stage” in the battle to ensure the best possible operating environment for credit unions, CUNA President/CEO Bill Cheney again called on credit unions and state leagues to keep up the grassroots pressure during the Memorial Day congressional recess and the weeks that follow by continuing to urge their legislators to delay implementation of the Federal Reserve’s debit interchange fee cap regulation. The Fed's proposed interchange regulations could limit debit card transaction fees to as little as seven to 12 cents per transaction. A proposed exemption for issuers with under $10 billion in assets is included in the proposal, but CUNA, leagues and credit unions have been emphasizing that the exemption is flawed and will not work in practice. Cheney in a Wednesday call with state league presidents said that credit union advocacy – through direct, in-district meetings, meetings in Washington, and CUNA’s online grassroots action center – has made the esoteric debit interchange fee cap issue one of the hottest and most-lobbied issues on Capitol Hill. Over 500,000 credit union contacts have been made to legislators. And about half of the 11,000 comment letters the Fed has received on its proposal came from credit unions. “We still have the momentum to reduce the impact of this new law and rules on credit unions—but we cannot let down now,” Cheney emphasized, “particularly with a holiday weekend coming up, and some crucial days ahead over the next three to four weeks.” The debit interchange regulations, which have not yet been finalized by the Fed, must by statute take effect on July 21. The current congressional schedule shows both joint and separate recess periods for the House and Senate, and this scheduling arrangement means that there are essentially only five complete weeks of full sessions of Congress between now and that deadline, adding to the urgency to enact pending legislation delaying the rules. Cheney’s call for continued grassroots pressure comes as Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reportedly said that interchange delay legislation could come up for a Senate vote in mid-June. After this week, the Senate will recess until June 6. The coming Memorial Day recess is another chance for credit unions to be heard on this issue while legislators are back home. “Every time they turn around, someone should be there from a credit union to talk to them about interchange,” Cheney told the league presidents. “Participate in any town hall meetings—live, phone or ‘virtual—and keep up the pressure,’ said Cheney. “Visit your Senators’ Facebook page and post questions and comments about interchange.” Cheney also pointed out the stepped up credit union contacts with legislators is having another benefit: All the Capitol Hill contacts put more pressure on the Fed to make substantive changes to its proposed rule. Further, all the grassroots action by credit unions has made the interchange issue “radioactive,” squelching earlier talk from some lawmakers and merchant groups that wanted next to reform credit card as well as debit interchange. Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Bob Corker’s (R-Tenn.) S. 575 would delay implementation of the debit interchange provisions by 15 months. A study of their impact on consumers, credit unions and other financial institutions, and merchants would also be ordered. (See related May 18 story: Tester: 15-mo. interchange delay is 'bare minimum') Similar legislation has been offered in the House, but House members have said that they would wait for the Senate to act first on the interchange issue, since that legislation was first offered in the Senate.