When the banking crisis exploded across the U.S. economic landscape two years ago, an immediate result was a severe credit crunch. Banks caught with billions of bad real estate loans tightened lending sharply as federal regulators moved in to make sure the loose credit blamed for the housing bubble ended.
The Federal Reserve, meanwhile, was feverishly trying to keep a suddenly credit-starved economy from going into free fall. It lowered interest rates to zero to pump cash into the nation's bloodstream.
Gradually, the credit crisis eased for much of the economy and economic growth has resumed. But one critical sector — small business, which is the largest engine of job creation in the U.S. — has remained in urgent need of credit. And the situation may be worsening.
In the words of a Federal Reserve report out this month: "Standards on commercial and industrial loans to small firms were roughly unchanged and terms on such loans were tightened over the past three months." That explains as well as anything why the Fed's aggressive credit expansion, not to mention the bailout money, has not cut the unemployment rate.
Now Congress, in the name of banking reform, wants to cut the fees banks charge on credit card transactions and put a cap on credit card interest rates. That will inevitably discourage banks from lending via credit card and small businesses often use credit cards as a source of business capital.
Consumers may like the new regulations — that is, if they have jobs.
— Brit Hume is the senior political analyst for Fox News Channel.