WASHINGTON -- Freshman Democrat Christopher Carney (Pa.) joined the growing list of co-sponsors to the Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act prior to the congressional Memorial Day recess.
With primary sponsor Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) that brings the list in the first session of the 110th Congress up to 93. Over the two years of the last Congress, the bill attracted 125 co-sponsors. With the addition of Carney and others, credit unions have been able to rally 10 co-sponsors around CURIA who had not previously been on the bill, including new and returning members of Congress. CURIA had lost 11 co-sponsors from the previous Congress due to retirement, lost re-elections, representatives running for higher office or death.
Wearing out the shoe leather is the only way to get these kinds of results. CUNA Senior Vice President for Legislative Affairs John Magill said that CUNA's lobbyists are all over the Hill "knocking on doors, making phone calls." He pointed out that in addition to continuing to educate members of Congress on credit unions and CURIA, there are also 53 new members to inform about credit union issues.
That is a lot of ground to cover and the message just would not get across the same without the help of CUNA member credit union staff and volunteers talking with their representatives. Already 38 Hike the Hills have been scheduled this year for 35 different states, according CUNA Senior Vice President of Political Affairs Richard Gose. Minnesota, California, Nevada, Montana, South Carolina, Arkansas, and North Carolina have made their trips to Washington, D.C.
"Aside from the Hikes, some states are making a second pass...As the lobbyists go in, it gives them a one-two punch," Gose said.
In addition to the Hikes, more than 2,000 e-mails have gone through CUNA's system since the bill was introduced two-and-a-half months ago. Gose added that this is not really a good measurement of the overall efforts by CUNA-member credit unions because many are active independently or through their league's systems, or make personal phone calls. And just because Congress was "in recess" last week that does not mean they were not working back home in their districts and their credit union constituents were meeting with them there too.
"The personal contacts--that's the one thing that makes us stand out from a few other groups in town," Gose stressed.
Magill added that there are certainly some members of Congress who are not willing to go on the record as co-sponsors to the bill but have offered help in other ways behind the scenes.
The Education Process
And, Gose said, "Once you get a head start getting action on the bill, more people will want to [co-sponsosr the bill] because they're more aware of it."
"Success breeds success," Magill agreed.
While co-sponsorship is a good marker, he continued, "Most important is to educate them on CURIA and more broadly, the good that credit unions do in their districts."
Credit unions do this through their everyday work, but the ones serving the House and Senate are obvious examples for members of Congress and their staffers. "If you walk through Rayburn House Office Building and Longworth House Office Building, some of the new staffers, one of the first things they do is sign up with Wright Patman Federal Credit Union...There are no banks," Magill, a former House staffer, pointed out.
Gose added that CUNA's political action committee, the Credit Union Legislative Action Council, and Capitol Hill-targeted campaigns like the Little Guy are also helping CUNA ensure that all members of Congress and their staff know about credit unions.
The credit union lobby is gearing up to go beyond co-sponsorship and ask for a hearing, Gose said. During the build up, CUNA lobbyists will maintain their contact, while the Hike the Hills will continue coming into town from all over the country. He reiterated that continued education and showing how credit unions serve the constituents in members' of Congress districts is crucial. "That's where Project Zip Code comes into play," Gose said, referring to CUNA's program that counts the number of credit union members in each zip code.
"I'm encouraged that something will be occurring in the near future," Magill added. A hearing date has not been set, but CUNA has gotten word that one has been promised by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.).
"A hearing would be great...but that's not our endgame," he said. "Our endgame is to pass as much of CURIA as possible...Frankly I don't care what vehicle it's on."
Magill also noted looking deeper into the bill's 93 co-sponsors, there is a hidden strength behind that figure. "If you look at the committee of jurisdiction, you see how many subcommittee chairs are CURIA co-sponsors, that's a real positive," he said. Kanjorski is chairman of the Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government-Sponsored Enterprises Subcommittee; Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) are the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade, and Technology Subcommittee; and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) is the chair of the Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee. Housing and Community Opportunity Subcommittee Chair Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) was a co-sponsor in the 109th Congress, but has not yet signed onto CURIA this Congress.
Since its inaugural year, CURIA has enjoyed support from both sides of the aisle, but it has always been Democrat leaning. Of the current 93 co-sponsors, 66 are Democrats. Magill pointed out that 20% of the Republican CURIA co-sponsors did not return to Congress this year after the shift of power from the Republicans to the Democrats.
Party affiliation should not be a big problem for CURIA through. "We want CURIA to be viewed as a bill for everyone. If you only have liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans, that's not a very good sign," Gose said. However, he commented that CURIA has a good cross-section of members.
But reaching beyond even a hearing, both seasoned politicos said a perfect storm could arise on Capitol Hill between legislators wanting to get things accomplished and early presidential primaries that there could be a possibility of getting a vote for CURIA on the House floor.
According to Magill, lobbyists are not pushing for a bill yet in the Senate, but are educating members over there of what is going on in the House. Last year, then-Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he would be interested in introducing CURIA in the Senate.
New Era Bill
One of the key hallmarks of CURIA is that it would create a risk-based capital framework. In the 110th Congress, the capital buckets were nudged upward to bring the system more in line with the banks' capital requirements, a move the bill's writers are hoping will gain the support of Treasury.
It would also expand credit union business lending authorities in a number of ways. It would increase the cap on member business lending from 12.25% of assets to 20%. It would raise the minimum amount of a business loan that counts toward the cap from $50,000 to $100,000 while excluding loans to nonprofit, religious organizations.
Another update this year was the inclusion of a provision to permit all federal credit union charter types to adopt underserved areas, define underserved areas borrowing two definitions already in use by other government agencies, and authorize credit unions to lease unused office space in underserved areas. This was in response to a victory in the courts by the American Bankers Association that limited the adoption of underserved areas to only multiple common bond credit unions.
CURIA would also tighten the requirements for converting to a mutual savings bank by instituting a 30% voter participation requirement, up from 20% in the previous bill; requiring a member meeting prior to balloting; and eliminating voter incentives like raffles.
It also includes a number of regulatory relief measures, such as:
- expanding investment opportunities;
- providing NCUA authority to lengthen loan maturity rates;
- increasing credit union lending and investment limits in CUSOs;
- allowing voluntary mergers of multiple common bond credit unions;
- permitting credit unions converting to a community charter to maintain prior FOMs outside the community;
- expanding basic credit union governance powers;
- providing NCUA with greater flexibility to respond to market conditions; and
- exempting credit unions from the pre-merger notification requirement in the Clayton Act.