Kerry aims to ease debt of consumers

The campaigns argued over who gets more donations from the financial industry.
SAN FRANCISCO -- With promises to curb credit card fees and protect home buyers and military families from unfair lending practices, Democratic candidate John Kerry is making a pitch aimed squarely at voters' checkbooks.
"By putting in place strong consumer protections that hold lenders accountable, we can put billions of dollars back into the pockets of middle-class families struggling to make ends meet, help families climb out of debt and build a better life for their children," Kerry said in remarks prepared for delivery today in Daly City, Calif.
Kerry's proposals ask financial companies to disclose more information to customers, including requiring that credit card bills display the number of months it would take a customer to pay off the balance by making the minimum monthly payments.
Other proposals would block credit card companies from changing the interest rates on purchases retroactively and require them to notify customers before raising their interest rates.
Campaign donations
Kerry said President Bush gets too many campaign contributions from the financial industry to make the changes that consumers need. "For four years, George Bush has put narrow interests first while hard-working families pay the price," he said.
The Bush-Cheney campaign countered that Kerry's campaign benefits, too, from financial donations.
"For John Kerry to attack over support from bankers when he is the No. 1 Senate recipient of banker donations over the past 15 years just demonstrates his willingness to say one thing and do another," spokesman Matt McDonald said.
The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign donations, shows that President Bush has received $586,225 from the financial industry during this election season, compared with the $92,751 donated to Kerry.
To curb credit card fees, Kerry wants to bar lenders from allowing consumers to charge over their limit and then charging a fee without approval from the customer.
Challenged to a debate
Meanwhile, Kerry says he is ready to debate Bush right now -- and again every week until Election Day.
On Thursday, he challenged Bush to talk about "issues facing Americans," saying that voters are seeking substantive dialogue.
"America deserves a serious discussion about its future," the Democratic presidential candidate said during an appearance in Anoka, Minn. "It does not deserve a campaign of smear and fear."
The campaigns have agreed to three presidential debates and one between Vice President Dick Cheney and Democrat John Edwards.
Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, said there would be time for debates after the Republican National Convention, which opens Monday in New York.
"During the next few weeks, John Kerry should take the time to finish the debates with himself," Schmidt said. "This election presents a clear choice to the American people between a president who is moving America forward and a senator who has taken every side of almost every issue."
Kerry stopped in Minnesota to meet with undecided voters -- a gesture he said the president is unwilling to make. The Massachusetts senator repeatedly has suggested this week that Bush is campaigning in a bubble, insulating himself from criticism.
"Nobody here had to sign a loyalty oath to get in," Kerry said.

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