Goodbye 109th, Hello 110th Congress; New Makeup of Congress Offers Opportunity
As we say goodbye to the 109th Congress and prepare to welcome the 110th, now is a good time to pause and consider what credit unions were able to accomplish this past year--and what unfinished business we may pursue in the session beginning in January.
Perhaps most importantly, the 109th passed a regulatory relief bill for financial institutions, legislation championed by retiring House Financial Services Chairman Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) and designed to remove many outdated and unneeded regulations.
While credit unions would have liked to have seen more in the measure--NAFCU had backed a House bill that contained over a dozen specific credit union provisions--the new law brings some important relief to credit unions. Not the least of which is language to address the accounting problems that merging credit unions would have faced when the Financial Accounting Standards Board implements its new business combination rules. The legislative clarification of how net worth is treated for prompt corrective action purposes was sorely needed and now ensures that merging credit unions are able to count the combined net worth of both institutions.
Credit unions, of course, have their own bill, the Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act, CURIA, that we have actively pursued in the past two Congresses. With 125 cosponsors at the conclusion of this Congress, we made more progress than ever before in encouraging lawmakers to join us in our effort to improve the regulatory climate for credit unions.
One provision in CURIA that we'll certainly be focusing on in the 110th is risk-based capital and PCA reform. Other important provisions include raising the cap on member business loans, allowing credit unions to continue serving their SEGs when they convert to a community charter and requiring at least 20% of members to vote in favor of a credit union conversion. We will also be seeking legislation to permit all credit unions to add underserved areas to their fields of membership, an effort that we began laying the groundwork for this year.
Because of retirements and the mid-term elections, we'll be saying goodbye to some credit union friends in Congress. I've already mentioned Mike Oxley, who did not seek reelection this year; but we also lost another former committee chairman, Jim Leach of Iowa, who was chair of the House Banking Committee during the fight to pass H.R. 1151. Leach lost his bid for reelection, as did such credit union stalwarts as J.D. Hayworth of Arizona and Chris Chocola of Indiana. But on the plus side, credit union advocate and bank critic Bernie Sanders of Vermont won his bid for the U.S. Senate.
Sanders has requested a Government Accountability Office study of the advantages banks enjoy as a result of government aid and what that has cost the American taxpayer. He also assured attendees this year at NAFCU's Congressional Caucus that if he were elected to the Senate, he would introduce CURIA in that chamber.
Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala), who has capably chaired the House Financial Institutions Subcommittee, will become the ranking Republican on the Financial Services Committee. He has been a fair and thoughtful chairman, always willing to work with credit unions, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with him.
We also look forward to working with Rep. Barney Frank, (D-Mass.) the committee's new chairman, who is expected to pursue a more activist agenda as the Democrats reassert power after a 12-year hiatus. At an FDIC forum several weeks ago, Frank indicated he wants to focus on ways to bring more lower-income people into the financial mainstream. He said he's planning legislation to change the Federal Housing Administration loan ceilings to a percentage of median housing prices (not flat dollar amounts). He also wants to see anti-predatory lending efforts on behalf of military personnel expanded to all consumers.
The beginning of a new Congress brings many opportunities to get reacquainted with returning members of the House and Senate and meet newly elected members of Congress. And with all the new chairmen, this is an especially important time for credit unions to visit with their newly elected officials.
Fortunately, credit unions are no strangers to political involvement. In fact, 80% of the credit unions responding to NAFCU's November Flash Survey indicated that their board members or senior staff had contacted their member of Congress within the last year. Twenty percent indicated that a member of Congress had visited their credit union within the past 12 months. Many of the issues that Flash respondents said they discussed with their member of Congress will be on our plate in the new Congress, including CURIA, preservation of the credit union tax-exemption, data security, member business lending, payday lending, credit union conversions and municipal deposits.
Last, but not least, we expect the bankers to be quite active in the months ahead. Already NAFCU has paid courtesy calls on a number of key members of Congress to reinforce the credit union message of service as a counterpoint to the bankers' mischaracterization of the recently released NCUA data collection and GAO reports.
I am optimistic that we can make even greater progress on our issues in the new Congress, but we must also work hard to tell the credit union story on the Hill and in the media. With our critics emboldened by changes in Congress, we must remain vigilant in the New Year.