Dem 51
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GOP 49
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The Democrats May Have An(other) Economic Issue that Works

Unemployment is at historic lows, but people who have a job aren't affected by unemployment, so whether it is 3% or 6% doesn't matter much to them. It doesn't hit them in the face every day. In contrast, inflation does, which is why so many people are saying the economy is in bad shape. There isn't much Joe Biden or the Democrats can do about inflation, but they may have found another issue that does resonate with voters: junk fees. Increasingly many companies are attaching little (mandatory) fees to bills without telling the customer in advance. For example, many hotels have a (mandatory) "resort fee" to cover use of the business center, gym, and WiFi, even if the guest doesn't want to use any of them. Or fees to allow people to pick their own seats on a flight. How about service charges when buying tickets for events? Maybe out-of-network ATM fees? Or living-wage fees at restaurants? What about a fee for an airline to charge its passengers for using its seat belt if they don't bring their own? Is that next? There are tons of others. If a hotel wants to have a gym and charge for its use, that's fine, but making the fee mandatory for everyone and keeping that hidden until the bill is presented is extremely deceptive, even if it is mentioned on page 9 of the Terms & Conditions document guests have to agree to when they sign in.

Many people are extremely irritated by these junk fees, especially if they are well hidden until the bill shows up. The Democrats are aware of this irritation and want to cash in on it, for free. They are starting to campaign on the idea that if they get the trifecta in 2025, Congress could pass a law requiring all mandatory fees to be disclosed explicitly in any ads or other communications where the price of the product or service is displayed. That could be coupled with a legal right to pay only the advertised price if no extra services were used. In much of Europe, not only are all fees included in the offered price, but so are all taxes, including VAT (sales tax). What you see is what you get. The only reason that junk fees exist in the U.S. is that some businesses want to deceive customers into believing that the price is lower than it really is and Republicans in Congress are willing to enable this behavior. It is a sensitive issue and could resonate with many voters.

To a limited extent, federal agencies may have the power to require up-front disclosure of all fees, but to really do the job right, Congress has to pass a law making it legal to refuse to pay any fees not disclosed in advance. Rep. Chris Deluzio (D-PA) is on this and working to make it a campaign issue and get other Democrats to join him. Focus group testing has shown that banning hidden fees is a popular issue with many people, so worth pursuing.

There are really two issues at stake here. One is the fees themselves and the other is disclosure. Should a hotel be able to advertise: "Room is $200, resort fee is $25," or should they be forced to simply advertise: "Room is $225"? Some people argue that requiring disclosure is beating around the bush. The advertised price for everything should be the price the customer pays, period.

Banks and credit card companies are notorious for all manner of hidden fees: account balance too low fee, late payment fee, returned check fee, and many more. They are lobbying hard to prevent Congress from taking action, which is why Republicans don't want to do anything, lest the campaign donations cease. Consequently, this is an issue that Democrats could flog hard if they tried. (V)

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