WASHINGTON -- While Michael Fryzel is finally going to get a confirmation hearing for his nomination as NCUA Board chairman, partisan election-year partisan politics could prevent him from actually getting on the board.
The Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to have a hearing on Fryzel and other nominees for financial policy and regulatory posts on Tuesday. Moving the confirmation out of the committee and to a vote will depend on matters unrelated to his qualifications.
"There's a natural reluctance to fill slots at the end of a president's term," said a lobbyist with close ties to the credit union industry. "It will boil down to whether there can be a deal between the two parties."
A former director of the Illinois Department of Financial Institutions, Fryzel, would serve on the board through 2013; however, each president gets to choose his or her own chairman. He would succeed Chairman JoAnn Johnson, whose term expired last year but has stayed on pending the confirmation of a new chairman.
Fryzel has had extensive experience dealing with credit unions both while in government and in private practice since leaving state government in 1989. He has represented numerous state and federally chartered credit unions and was the legal counsel for the Midwest Association of Credit Unions before it merged with the Illinois Credit Union League.
No members of the Senate have expressed objection to Fryzel and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the Banking Committee's senior Republican, has been urging Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) to hold hearings on Fryzel and other nominees for several months, sources said.
Fryzel's confirmation would not change the partisan composition of the board--he would replace another Republican, Johnson, and other positions are occupied by Vice Chairman Rodney Hood, a Republican, and Democrat Gigi Hyland. The law creating the NCUA Board requires that there must always be members of both parties on the three-person board.
The lack of a partisan shift on the NCUA Board could cause Fryzel's nomination to go through, argued Geoff Bacino, a former NCUA Board member who now serves on the Federal Housing Finance Board.
"There are enough appointments pending that would please those on both sides of the aisle--such as filling some Democratic vacancies on the Securities and Exchange Commission--that Fryzel's appointment could go through," he said. "In the case of Fryzel, even though you're keeping a two-to-one Republican majority, it's not like your losing a position because Hood's term expires next spring and a Democratic president could nominate a Democrat to replace Hood."
Currently, there are more than 200 nominations awaiting action on Capitol Hill, ranging from high-profile positions, such as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, to lower profile posts like the NCUA Board vacancy. All are subject to confirmation by the Senate, which has a Democratic majority.
Some presidents have circumvented the confirmation process by making recess appointments, which allows persons appointed while Congress is out of session to serve until the end of that Congress. Senate Democrats have limited Bush's ability to do this by keeping the chamber in pro forma session.
Another lobbyist connected to the credit union industry, who requested anonymity because of the volatility of the situation, said they were "not sure [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid is inclined to move things forward, and even if he were, it's sometimes hard to get an agreement between the parties because one member refusing to go along can kill it."
Bacino, who took his seat on the NCUA Board in May 2000 following a recess appointment by then-President Clinton, said the one thing that is certain about the confirmation process is its unpredictability.
"I won a few dinners from people who said I'd never be nominated, and a few more from those who said I'd never be seated," he said.