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GARN SAYS CREDIT-CARD RULING WAS A MISTAKE

Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, says he knows U.S. District Judge Dee Benson recently misinterpreted legislative intent - because Garn wrote the amendment that Benson apparently misinterpreted.

"Judges are appointed to interpret the law, not create it," Garn complained in a floor speech this week, in which he did not directly name Benson.Garn complained that he passed an amendment to a banking bill last year specifically to force the Visa credit card company to allow Sears to issue low-interest, no-fee Visa cards nationwide through MountainWest Savings and Loan in Utah, which Sears bought a few years ago when it was failing.

Visa had denied MountainWest that right in part because its parent company Sears offers the competing Discovery card. Sears then sued VISA, and the case is still pending before Benson's court.

But Garn said the court ruled on a pre-trial motion that Garn's amendment "was not intended to provide a legal right that could be enforced by the litigants in the dispute between Sears and Visa."

Garn said, "There was no question in my mind, or in any other member's mind, that this amendment would apply to the Sears-Visa dispute, and to resolve the issue (other than the antitrust issues) in favor of the consumer.

"This is why, and that is the only logical reason why, the amendment was made retroactive to Aug. 9, 1989."

Garn conceded, however, that some members of Congress had inserted into the Congressional Record some conflicting statements - but he said they had little direct involvement with the legislation or the committees that worked on it.

"The district court's decision was wrong. It ignores the intent of the Congress. It invites those opposed to the majority view to find a member (of Congress), any member, to attempt to subvert the will of the entire Congress."

Garn complained the ruling would hurt consumers because they would not have access to the low-interest cards that Sears planned to issue. He said it will also hurt the Resolution Trust Corp., which oversees the bailout of failing savings and loans.

"The membership agreement with Visa was an asset of the failed thrift association. When the RTC sells a thrift to another company, it can receive more . . . if the acquiring party has some assurance that all of the assets it purchases will retain their value after the sale."

He added, "The ability of Visa or any other credit card issuer to unilaterally cut off services to an acquiring institution creates market uncertainty for the thrift, thereby lowering the eventual recovery to the U.S. taxpayer."