The recession-era perp-walk: Credit-card execs slouch toward D.C.

eThere are probably people out there who lie awake at night, thinking about credit cards. They toss, imagining their tenacious debt entangling them like ivy slowly choking a brick house. They turn, fantasizing about the C.I.A.-approved techniques they'd like to see performed on the leaders of the credit-card companies. For people like that, next Thursday, April 23, is a day they're going to want to circle on their calendar. And it's not because it's the day their minimum payment is due.

In fact, it's the day that 14 of the nation's largest credit-card companies might be sending their executives to the slaughter -- or to a meeting with Obama Administration officials, which is pretty much the same thing. The Washington Post predicts the meeting will happen, and the prospect promises a fast and furious fireworks display, given the climate. If there's one lesson this fledgling White House has learned in its first hundred days, it's that it can't go broke with displays of outrage that companies like to clean out the wallets of ordinary folks. Suddenly, that's no longer acceptable.Government testimony has become the unofficial perp walk of the recession. In recent months, the public found catharsis in the image of Lehman Brothers' impotently enraged Dick Fuld, and General Motors' cane-whipped Rick Wagoner. Later, the meetings presented a fun, get-to-hate-you with the heads of American Express, Bank of America, and other companies the public loves to love.

Banks are doing all they can to cope with the credit crunch, but even as that crunch eases, customers are having trouble understanding why their credit limits are dropping as their interest rates increase, and why they're getting their accounts canceled without (much) warning. The answer, as always, is that the banks need customers to carry debts: just not too much debt. It's a fine line, one that demands a little mental acrobatics And, as we're likely to see on Thursday, perhaps a little verbal jujitsu as well.

So what happens when the strength of an invaluable economic engine encounters the wrath of a president on the warpath? Maybe we'll find out on Thursday, when the bill comes due at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
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