Now the action goes back behind closed doors.
Following a meeting that lasted less than 30 minutes, the Senate Banking Committee voted 13-10 along party lines to send Chairman Christopher Dodd's regulatory restructuring bill to the Senate floor. There will be more discussions and horse trading before the full chamber gets a stab at the bill.
Given the rules of the Senate, which require 60 votes to get almost anything passed, Dodd will be working to make deals with Republicans while holding on to Democrats, many of whom would like a stronger bill. The Senate has 59 Democrats (including two independents who caucus with the party) and 41 Republicans.
Sen. Bob Corker, a key negotiator on the issue for the Republicans, said last week that his fellow Republicans made an error in embracing an agreement with Dodd.
Dodd's bill, which creates a new regulator of consumer financial products as an agency headed by a presidential appointee housed inside the Federal Reserve, has been criticized by CUNA and NAFCU, which fear parts of it would add to the regulatory burden of credit unions and would divide credit unions by size.
One of the concerns is that the new regulator would have the power to examine the three credit unions with more than $10 billion in assets.
Jennifer Sadler, a spokeswoman for Navy Federal Credit Union, the largest credit union by asset size, said her credit union is concerned that the additional layer of regulation will hurt them.
"It will raise our administrative costs and would increase the cost of offering our wide array of services and products to our members," she said.
Sadler, who noted that Navy FCU already has 10 employees who work on compliance issues full time, said she hasn't calculated what the new regulatory requirements might cost nor have they asked their members to contact lawmakers about specific provisions. "It's a complicated issue, we are trying to digest it all," she added.
The leaders of the other two largest credit unions, Pentagon FCU President/CEO Frank Pollack and State Employees Credit Union President/CEO Jim Blaine both told Credit Union Times they favor the new consumer regulator and don't think the additional compliance costs will have a significant impact on their bottom line.
"I believe it is a good thing. The costs won't be that big, and it will help us since we are already doing things at are pro consumer," Pollack said. "I have not figured out why credit unions are fighting this."
Blaine said if consumers are better educated about financial products. credit unions will benefit and the increased transparency will help everyone.
He noted that while the additional compliance requirements will create more work for his staff, the result will be positive.
"As a state-chartered institution, we always have somebody [from a state or federal] regulatory agency] in our shop. and I welcome the advice and another set of eyes. Any burden will be offset if a fairer market exists," Blaine said.
CUNA Vice President of Legislative Affairs Ryan Donovan said his group will be working to encourage lawmakers to change the legislation to give the new consumer regulator the right to delegate the authority to examine the three big credit unions to the NCUA. CUNA and NAFCU are also pushing to raise the threshold to $50 billion, indexed for inflation, thus exempting all credit unions.
NAFCU President/CEO Fred Becker said he wants lawmakers to do something stronger than just give the new regulator the option to delegate examination authority over the three largest credit unions.
"Just because you have it, doesn't mean you'll use it," he said.
It's not clear when the Senate will take up the measure, in part because that chamber has a crowded schedule and because the Senate Agriculture Committee has yet to hold a hearing on the parts of the bill over which it has jurisdiction-the regulation of derivatives.
Although several hundred amendments had been submitted, only 20-mostly technical in nature-were offered and approved by the committee. Many of the other amendments will either be the subject of additional negotiations before the bill reaches the full Senate or will be presented as amendments during debate.
No timetable has been set for the Senate to take up the bill. If it passes that chamber, it must be reconciled with a similar measure passed by the House last December.
Now that the health care debate is mostly done, the administration plans to make passage of financial reform a top priority.