WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats are teaming up with the Biden administration and a progressive advocacy group to turn policy efforts to curb “junk fees” into a political rallying cry, betting that a small but potentially potent kitchen-table issue will resonate with voters.
President Joe Biden promised in this year’s State of the Union address to target unexpected fees tacked on to things like plane and concert tickets, hotel rooms, hospital and cellphone bills, and housing transactions. He’s since worked with major businesses to see that pricing is more transparent about all fees.
More than a dozen House Democrats around the country plan to hold events organized with help from the Progressive Change Institute to promote the administration’s effort to curb junk fees. Events have already happened in suburban Detroit, Philadelphia, central New Jersey and Albuquerque, N.M. Similar efforts are planned in coming weeks in Pittsburgh, New York and Las Vegas, as well as in Wisconsin, Ohio and North Carolina. Still others are in the works.
“Hidden and deceptive junk fees cost Americans billions of dollars every year,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic House leader. “House Democrats will continue to work with President Biden to fight these excessive fees.”
Rep. Elissa Slotkin a swing-district Michigan Democrat who is now running for the Senate, is planning an event in a few weeks and said “the administration’s initiative to eliminate junk fees will put money back in people’s pockets.”
Fellow Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib referred to seat-assignment fees in saying she was “taken aback to see airlines charging more for you to sit next to your child” during an event last week at a health center outside Detroit with Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell.
The push is part of “Bidenomics,” the president’s effort to stimulate the economy by increasing social spending in ways he says can strengthen the middle class. It could ease the sting of inflation, which has moderated in recent months but remains high. But it may also help Biden bridge the gap between an economy that many metrics show is strong — with low unemployment rates and wages rising — and polling suggesting that many Americans don’t view that as a positive for Democrats.
“We’ve got to be in a position to show people what we’ve done,” Biden said at a fundraiser last week for his 2024 reelection campaign in New Mexico, referring to public perceptions on the economy. He added: “It doesn’t show. It takes time for people to realize why that’s there.”
The Biden administration has used executive action to try to limit ticketing and medical fees, and used federal agencies to try to curb unexpected charges in banking, airlines and other sectors. The president also announced in June that company executives meeting with him at the White House — including from Live Nation Entertainment, the parent company of Ticketmaster, and SeatGeek — had agreed to disclose more ticketing fees up front so consumers have a better idea of final pricing as they comparison shop.
The Progressive Change Institute’s political arm, the Progress Change Campaign Committee, was closely allied with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign, which was built around championing consumer protections and promoting progressive causes through economic populism. Combating unexpected fees could be an extension of that theme, with appeals for progressives but also for moderate Democrats and swing voters.
“Fighting surprise junk fees is super popular and bipartisan with the public because everyone hates these abusive extra costs,” said Adam Green, the Progressive Change Institute co-founder.