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March 13, 2008 -- Washington lawmakers are preparing to take a giant swipe at the $19 billion initial public offering of credit-card giant Visa, the largest-ever US IPO, just as it sets to launch next week.

Prompted by intense lobbying from the nation's biggest retailers including Wal-Mart boss Lee Scott, legislators in the House recently introduced a bill that could drastically lower a little-known fee charged by credit-card companies every time a consumer uses a card.

The charge, known as the interchange fee, is billed to merchants and is typically set by Visa and MasterCard, the nation's two largest credit-card companies, without any input from merchants.

The fee averages about 1.75 percent of the total purchase, according to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).

Earlier this month, Conyers and Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) introduced a bill, the "Credit Card Fair Fee Act of 2008," that would set up a panel appointed by the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to set the fees. Retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target, which contributed heavily to the $42 billion of interchange fees paid last year, have been lobbying for the bill for years.

Similar bipartisan legislation is expected to be introduced in the Senate next month and Visa and MasterCard are said to have hired more than a dozen lobbyists to combat the bill.

If it passes, the bill could deal a $570 million blow to Visa's annual revenues and cause its earnings per share to fall by as much as 30 percent from current estimates, according to an analysis circulating among several well-heeled hedge funds.
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