Democrats tout 'junk fees' reforms, believe it can translate to 2024 wins
Targeting "junk fees" has been a priority of the Biden administration.
From Detroit to Albuquerque, Democratic members of Congress across the country have held events this summer about their party's efforts to eliminate so-called "junk fees," with more scheduled in the next few weeks.
Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, the three-term congresswoman who represents a purple district in Michigan and is running for the U.S. Senate, held an event Friday with constituents to talk about a bill she co-sponsored that would increase transparency -- legislation backed by President Joe Biden.
The president, too, has focused significant time on the issue over the last several months , targeting fees that hit consumers, often by surprise, in banking, travel and entertainment sectors.
In a sign of how Democrats are seizing the issue, Reps. Debbie Dingell and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Melanie Stansbury of New Mexico, and Brendan Boyle have all already held events this month touting Democrats' efforts to combat junk fees, while Rep. Brendan Boyle sat down with ABC’s Philadelphia affiliate 6ABC to promote new legislation.
Becky Chong, a stay-at-home mom of small children from Medford, Oregon, said junk fees have limited the things her and her family can experience together.
"To go on vacation, to do these things, we have to budget extra for these surprise costs. And that just limits the amount of stuff you get to do in a year," Chong, who got saddled with surprise fees while planning a family vacation this summer, told ABC News.
"If you have only so much money to spend, and you're taking a percentage of this to pay these surprise junk fees, that's less to do, that's less to eat, that's less souvenirs that we get to buy our kids as mementos for the things that we do because you only have a set amount of money," she added.
In February, Biden made tackling junk fees one of the focuses of his State of the Union address, a speech to Congress in which the president can outline his priorities for the coming year.
"Look, junk fees may not matter to the very wealthy, but they matter to most other folks in homes like the one I grew up in, like many of you did," Biden said, addressing the American people. "They add up to hundreds of dollars a month. They make it harder for you to pay your bills or afford that family trip."
"I know how unfair it feels when a company overcharges you and gets away with it. Not anymore," the president also said, later adding that, "Americans are tired of being -- we're tired of being played for suckers."
Chong said these fees "upset" her.
"I just feel like with everything going on -- you have increased inflation, you have increased prices -- and now this is just, these are more ways for corporations to gouge people. And it's just unfair and it's unbalanced," Chong said.
"It's like we work hard for our money and we should be able to spend it the way we choose not the way we're being told to spend it," she added.
Rich Weingartner, who attended Slotkin's event in Lansing, said he was blindsided by broadcast and regional sports fees from his TV provider that were mandatory because of the package he was contracted for and that he's had to downgrade his cable package to cover the extra cost.
"The only way to do that, to offset the increased fees each year, was to go to a lower amount of service," Weingartner told ABC News. "Without the fees I probably wouldn't have dropped down a service level."
He said the fees make up nearly a quarter of his monthly bill.
"It's more of a -- not necessarily a financial [thing] to me, it's just them, you know, their power over us as a big corporation to pretty much do whatever they want to the consumers and there's nothing us as a consumer can do," Weingartner added.
Weingartner also said these hidden fees have made him reconsider buying tickets for different experiences.
"Lots of times these fees are starting to get to the point where I'm like it's not worth it anymore," he said of looking for tickets on Ticketmaster.
Biden announced in June that his administration secured commitments from several companies, including SeatGeek, Ticketmaster and Live Nation, to adopt so-called "all-in pricing" that would provide consumers will a single total price for purchases.
Ticketmaster in November was on the receiving end of widespread, blistering condemnation after fans of pop star Taylor Swift faced hidden fees at checkout. The fiasco led to a U.S. Senate hearing, and a lawsuit brought by Swift's fans.
The White House said Live Nation Entertainment, the resulting name after Ticketmaster and Live Nation merged, plans to roll out the option next month.
"This a win for consumers, in my view, and proof that our crackdown on junk fees has real momentum," Biden said during a roundtable with business leaders, before acknowledging there was more work the administration needed to do.
Last month, the Biden administration rolled out a plan with rental websites Zillow, Apartments.com and AffordableHousing.com will add a feature to their sites that would show prospective renters all associated fees up front.
Those charges include "convenience fees" that many tenants face when they pay their rent online, and application fees, according to the White House.
"President Biden has directed his Administration to pull every lever and sharpen every tool to eliminate hidden fees from every industry in our economy – from bank overdraft fees to airline fees," White House chief of staff Jeff Zients told ABC News in a statement. "Getting hundreds of dollars a month back in the American people's pockets will make a meaningful difference for hard-working families across the country."
A senior administration official said the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has "effectively eliminated" most American bank's use of overdraft fees. Additionally, the Biden administration earlier this year introduced a rule to cap late credit card payments at $8.
They are also working to draft a Department of Transportation rule that would push airlines to drop family seating fees, the senior administration added.
The White House argues Biden's efforts to crack down on these fees does not make him anti-business.
"He's got no problem with companies turning a profit and people getting rich," Bharat Ramamurti, the deputy director of the National Economic Council, told ABC News in an interview. "But you know, we should do business fairly and make sure that consumers know what they're getting themselves into."
The Progressive Change Institute, an advocacy group, has worked with some congressional members to put on their junk fees events this summer. Its co-president, Adam Green, said tackling the fees is good politics.
"Surprise junk fees hit people at a gut level, and that's why fighting these fees is so popular with even non-political people," Green said.