Ben Nelson Not Too Familar With ATMs

As Congress debates a bill that would regulate the fees banks can charge for using an Automatic Teller Machine, there’s at least one Senator who may not be entirely familiar with what they’re seeking to regulate:

WASHINGTON — Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has been fighting unsuccessfully this week for a vote on his proposal to limit the fees charged for using the ATM of a financial institution other than your own.

It might help if he showed some of his Senate colleagues the ATM in the basement of the Capitol, which prominently displays one of those “Fee Notice” signs that frustrate so many constituents. Customers with ATM cards not issued by the U.S. Senate Federal Credit Union face a $2 fee for withdrawals from the machine, on top of whatever fees their own banks charge.

Lawmakers walk past that ATM all the time on their way to votes on the Senate floor, but don’t expect to see Sen. Ben Nelson stopping to grab some quick cash.

The Nebraska Democrat pleaded ignorance when asked this week whether Congress should cap ATM fees. Nelson said that while he’s no fan of unnecessary fees, he’s unfamiliar with the charges.

“I’ve never used an ATM, so I don’t know what the fees are,” Nelson said, adding that he gets his cash from bank tellers, just not automatic ones. “It’s true, I don’t know how to use one.

“But I could learn how to do it just like I’ve . . . I swipe to get my own gas, buy groceries. I know about the holograms.”

By “holograms,” Nelson clarified that he meant the bar codes on products read by automatic scanners in the checkout lanes at stores such as Lowe’s and Menard’s.

“I go and get my own seating assignment on an airplane,” Nelson said. “I mean, I’m not without some skills. I just haven’t had the need to use an ATM.”

It’s an amusing story, and reminiscent of George H.W. Bush’s encounter with a cash register (which this article at Snopes shows wasn’t exactly what it seemed to be at the time) or Ted Stevens’s description of the Internet as “a series of tubes”, but it does raise the question of exactly how Congress is supposed to be expected to trusted to regulate modern technology when members don’t even understand what it’s regulating.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. JKB says:

    Well, is the senator old and decidedly uninterested in the modern world, long past time to set adrift on the ice flow or of an elite class that doesn’t live as mere mortals of lesser means do? In either case, the growing shake up of congress is beneficial.

    The sad thing is that the senator couldn’t intuitively come to understand, automatic teller machine fee.

  2. john personna says:

    Kinda funny. You can still get accounts that will refund you foreign fees (Schwab bank), but the whole system isn’t exactly consumer-friendly.

  3. Franklin says:

    He was doing fine until he said the word holograms. I mean, yes, many bank and credit cards have holograms, but they have nothing to do with the information stored on the magnetic strip or RFIDs.

    So continuing the OTB advice column, don’t say, “I know about the X” if you don’t actually know what the word X means.

  4. Franklin says:

    Oh, it should be pointed out that there is such a thing as holographic storage, but I don’t think that’s a developed technology. In any case, the holograms on current cards are purely an anti-counterfeiting measure, so far as I know.

    So I suppose it’s *conceivable* that he’s been briefed on the possible future of data storage and thought the future was now. But yeah, it’d be nice if our representatives knew something about what they’re legislating.

  5. I call BS says:

    As someone who knows several current and former Nelson staffers and has heard soooo many stories, I call BS on Nelson even knowing how to get his own seating assignment on a plane. Nelson never does anything that he can make a staffer or intern do for him…including running personal errands and making menial repairs to his NE and DC homes. Someone might want to look into that- I’m sure there have to be some rules against using federal funds to treat staffers like his own personal servants. As dysfunctional as that entire office is, I’m sure that almost any former Nelson staffer would be more than happy to share all kinds of dirt.