Since Congress cleaned up the debit-card business five years ago, consumers have saved an estimated $30 billion.
Now some members of the House Financial Services Committee, led by Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, want to turn back the clock to the bad old days and raise your prices again.
On Wednesday, they began discussing just that.
Two giant card companies, Visa and MasterCard, dominate the debit-card business; they price-fix the fees their member banks charge merchants to process the transaction every time you swipe a debit card to pay for something.
While it costs them only a few pennies, they used to charge almost half a dollar in these "swipe fees" on every transaction before reform cut it to around a quarter – still a huge profit margin.
Merchants like me had to put up with it because retailing is so competitive; convenience stores, for instance, post our gas prices on large signs for all to see.
And Texas, where I run a convenience-store chain, is hugely competitive for convenience stores – there are more here than anywhere else in the United States.
But these debit card fees had to be baked into our prices. If they weren't, we would go out of business.
Thankfully, Congress did something about this. It passed reforms limiting the Visa/MasterCard price-fixing and incentivizing banks to compete on price.
It has opened the way for competitors like Star, Pulse, NYCE, Shazam and others to try to get business on a level playing field with Visa and MasterCard.
It's not perfect, but opening this market to some competition is far better than the huge, price-fixed fees we had before – and, of course, American consumers are a lot better off with $30 billion in savings than they are giving that money to the largest banks.
But reform only helped on debit-card fees. Our credit-card swipe fees keep going up so that, even after reform, banks make more from our business than we do.
We pay the banks $12 million a year in swipe fees – more than the net profit we take in. For many merchants, the fees have ballooned from practically nothing decades ago to their second-largest operating cost, after only labor.
It doesn't make sense, and yet there it is – the bank can make more when you buy a gallon of gas than does the station where you get the gas.
Swipe fees not only raise your prices; they hurt small Main Street businesses, curtail hiring just when we need it most and put a dent in the economy since retail is such a huge component.
Thankfully, Congress decided enough was enough in 2010 and passed the reforms introducing some competition in debit cards.
Predictably, the banks howled and then proceeded to slime the reform with half-truths, bogus studies and disinformation.
And now, sure enough, a couple of members of Congress are trying to repeal reforms and put the $30 billion consumers saved back into banks' hands.
This is happening even though the modest reforms still let banks mark up their debit-card processing costs 500 percent – yes, you read that right – according to figures the banks themselves submit to the Federal Reserve.
Many retailers' margins, meanwhile, are down around 1 or 2 percent.
In fact, during the five years that debit reform has been in effect, the producer price index (what retailers pay for the goods they sell) has risen 9.4%, according to the Federal Reserve.
But the consumer price index (what retailers charge consumers) has risen only 4.3%.
That proves retailers have eaten more than half the increase in their cost of goods to keep prices low. Debit reform has been a factor in letting them do that.
Look: With declining oil prices, our economy in is not in the pink of health, as it was when it helped lead the U.S economy out of the recession.
Since the end of 2014, Texas has lost more than 91,000 oil-patch jobs, almost half of all those jobs lost in the entire country.
It doesn't make sense to go backward on the modest progress we have made and tie a heavier weight around consumers in Texas and across the country, who will face higher prices; small-business people, whose profits will shrink, who'll hire less and who may even face disaster; and the entire economy, which needs a boost right now, not another drag.
We need to tell Congress not to hand back a price-fixing monopoly to the big banks in debit cards.
Then we need to fix credit cards, where fees are even higher, and also make sure all the new payment technologies, which let you wave a watch or a smart phone at a checkout terminal, are fair to merchants and consumers too.
Mr. McKeen is president and CEO of ALON Brands Inc., headquartered in Dallas, the largest licensee of 7-Eleven convenience stores with 300 in Texas and New Mexico
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