05/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama Needs to Be Tough on Credit Card CEOs

President Obama is meeting on Thursday with the CEOs of fourteen top credit card issuers. According to reports, the President will tell them that they have to "make those increases a lot easier to understand" and "make it so it doesn't look like you're taking advantage." Those, at least, are the words Chuck Todd used on the NBC Nightly News on Wednesday evening to describe what the President will "flat out tell" the executives. I don't know whether his characterization is accurate, but if it is, it would be plainly insufficient to deal with these brazen pirates.


The American people do not want the unconscionable interest rate increases made "easier to understand"; we want them reversed. We don't want it made so it doesn't look like we are being taken advantage of; we want not to be taken advantage of.

At the same time, Barney Frank is moving a "Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights" (H.R. 627) through his committee. But will it be strong enough? Not without significant changes, which will not happen without massive pressure from the public. Let's put that pressure on.

For the good of the nation, as well as their own political good, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress need to get out in front on this growing issue and demand not merely a rollback of the rate increases but an overall lowering of rates to a reasonable level. Perhaps the threat of a presidential push for a federal usury law would get their attention, but we need more than the threat--we need to have such a law enacted, with teeth and retroactivity.

{Historian Robert S. McElvaine is Elizabeth Chisholm Professor of Arts & Letters at Millsaps College & author of:
The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941 2009-04-15-TGD2.gif (Random House) and
Down and Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the "Forgotten Man" 2009-04-16-DandO2.jpg (North Carolina).

His latest book is Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion in America 2008-07-01-GTJcoversm.jpg (Crown).}