The New York Post has a report on how Senator Bob Corker, a Republican of Tennessee, is joining with some other politicians to stall or block a provision to limit what banks can charge retailers as a fee when debit cards are used to pay for goods or services:
"Senator Corker doesn't believe the federal government should be telling private companies what they can charge for goods and services," said Laura Lefler Herzog, a spokeswoman for Corker.
A quick look at Senator Corker's Web site discloses at least three instances of Senator Corker doing pretty much what his spokeswoman claims he doesn't believe in.
A September 30, 2010, press release announced that Senator Corker was sponsoring legislation to give children's hospitals the right to obtain discounted prescription drugs. Said the press release, "Children's hospitals were previously eligible to purchase so-called "orphan drugs" – medicines for the treatment of illnesses impacting fewer than 200,000 people – at discounted prices under the Public Health Services Act. The Brown bill would restore this eligibility, giving stand-alone children's hospitals like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis affordable access to some 350 drugs with orphan status. Absent this legislation, St. Jude anticipates $1.5 million per year in added expenses." This legislation essentially tells pharmaceutical companies what they can charge for their goods.
A May 11, 2010, press release announced that Senator Corker had introduced the "Homeowner Responsibility Amendment." The release quoted Senator Corker as saying, "At the core of the financial crisis were home loans that should never have been written because the borrowers could not repay them. To correct this glaring vulnerability in our financial system, our amendment would direct federal banking regulators to establish minimum loan underwriting standards, setting an appropriate down payment and requiring verification of the borrower's ability to pay for the life of the loan." What's a federal government mandate of a 5% down payment on a home loan — which the amendment includes — if not a backdoor way of telling banks what they can charge consumers for a mortgage?
In an October 2008 letter to constituents, he defends his vote for TARP legislation in part on the grounds that "we produced a strengthened bill that protects taxpayers, provides accountability and oversight and limits exorbitant executive pay." What's a government limit on executive pay if not telling an executive what he can charge for his services?
It's certainly possible that Senator Corker's opposition to the debit card fee cap is motivated by free-market principle rather than, say, the pleas or campaign contributions of bankers and their lobbyists. But genuine, consistently applied free-market principle is so rare among politicians in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike, that when you see or hear a politician proclaiming such a principle it's almost always an indication to treat the politician and his proclamation with skepticism.