First President Bush jawboned high credit card interest rates, then Sen. Alphonse D'Amato, the New York Republican who is facing re-election next year, introduced a bill to do exactly what Bush seemed to be asking. Before you could say "charge it" the Senate had passed the bill, and the next day the stock market took its fifth biggest plunge in history.
Even though most states still have usury laws, it's generally conceded that fixing interest rates by law just doesn't work. So the politicians hastily retreated in face of the panic in the banking industry, and it's unlikely Congress will pass the interest rate caps which Bush seemed to yearn for last week but which he promises to veto this week.
Even so, the discussion of this issue has been worthwhile. For one thing, it alerted millions of Americans that they are still paying interest rates in the range of 20 percent. For another, it exposed the banking industry as a proponent of profligacy. With straight face, bank industry spokespersons warned that if the interest caps were mandated, 60 million Americans would suddenly find themselves cut off from credit. It seems that most of these people are almost by definition bad credit risks, but the banks desperately need them in order to maintain profits.