The Senate has just passed a bill reforming credit card billing practices to ease pressures on consumers. Credit card issuers are to be constrained from arbitrarily raising interest rates on existing balances and must give advance notice of over-the-limit penalties in order to give card holders a kind of grace period. Despite opposition from the credit card industry, which insists on high interest rates and penalties to compensate for the risk involved in issuing credit cards, the upper house passed the bill by a 90-5 vote, with four senators ill or absent. House approval and a presidential signature are expected, but there's a complication. Senator Coburn, a Republican, introduced an amendment ( scroll down to S.Amd7. 1067) that was added to the credit card measure by a 67-29 vote. How does the Coburn amendment change the bill's impact on card holders or issuers? In no way whatsoever. Instead, the amendment forbids the government from prohibiting people from carrying firearms in national parks.
You might think that no one should have to think of self-defense in a national park, but Sen. Coburn thinks differently. Invoking the Second Amendment, his intervention mandates that the right to "keep and bear arms" shall not be infringed in parks unless specific individuals are already prohibited from carrying guns. All of this is debatable in its own right, but what has it to do with credit card interest rates? Apparently it doesn't have to have anything to do with the legislation it amends. There's no test of relevancy for such things apart from that each senator conducts in his or her head before voting on an amendment. So Coburn can polish his gun-nut credentials by piggy-backing his bill on more popular legislation. Interesting, three of the five senators who opposed the amended bill voted for the amendment. That looks pointless unless you're tabulating the National Rifle Association's ratings for legislators.
The House of Representatives has the right to decouple the Coburn amendment from the credit card bill, and is expected to vote on the two measures separately. That, however, would require some form of reconciliation between the amended Senate bill and an unamended House version. I expect the amendment will fall by the wayside at that point, since the gun nuts will have already put themselves on the record. In any event, it should.