Soft-Spoken Southerner Bachus to Lead House Panel
Say farewell to the wisecracking, brainy lawmaker from suburban Boston and say hello to the soft-spoken, courtly former lumber company owner and trial lawyer from Birmingham, Ala.
Rep. Spencer Bachus, who is slated to take over the helm of the House Financial Services Committee from Chairman Barney Frank next year, brings to the job an empathetic ear to credit union issues and a detailed knowledge of financial services policy.
"He is a proven commodity and will definitely give credit unions a fair shake," said former NCUA board member Geoff Bacino. "Credit unions will have every opportunity to make their case. But they will have their work cut out because their rivals will also have every opportunity to make their cases as well."
Bachus, 62, has represented a district representing the Birmingham area since 1993. He is, according to those who have worked with him, a consensus builder who likes to hear from proponents of all sides of an issue. The lawmaker is unfailingly pleasant but not afraid to be forceful when necessary.
During speeches to CUNA and NAFCU conferences, Bachus has praised the work of credit unions and noted that they will continue to help people without ever being too big to fail.
He angered the banking lobby during a speech at CUNA's GAC earlier this year when he expressed support for raising the cap on member business loans. That comment prompted a lobbyist for the Independent Community Bankers of America to not attend a fundraiser that week.
Even though Bachus had no serious re-election challenge, the political action committees of CUNA and NAFCU have given money to his campaign or leadership PAC during each of the last two election cycles.
Bachus has said his top priorities will be to ensure that the Obama administration doesn't hurt businesses too much when implementing the financial overhaul bill, and he wants to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
CUNA and NAFCU are urging that any reforms to Fannie and Freddie, which are currently operating under government conservatorship, don't reduce of the availability of secondary market for credit unions to sell their mortgages.
"A central role for the U.S. government in the secondary-mortgage market is pivotal, including an explicit government guarantee on the principle and interests of all securities issued by the GSEs. The GSEs should be self-funded, without any dedicated government appropriations," NAFCU President Fred Becker wrote lawmakers. "Legislation to reform the GSEs should ensure that taxpayer losses are not locked in but should allow for time for the GSEs to make taxpayers whole."
CUNA Senior Vice President John Magill predicted that Bachus will work to persuade his colleagues to have strong oversight on the regulation and rule writing that is required under the financial overhaul bill that Congress passed earlier this year.
"He is very understanding of the fact that credit unions already face a heavy regulatory burden," Magill said.
Given that the Democrats will still control the Senate-though by a smaller margin-there will likely be compromises between the chambers on how much they want to influence the implementation of the financial overhaul bill.
Magill also noted that because there will be 100 new House members, including a large number of new Financial Services Committee members, credit unions will have to in some instances start from scratch on issues such as member business lending.
"We're at the five-yard line on MBLs, but we have to start a new game," Magill said.
When asked to compare him to Frank, NAFCU Director of Legislative Affairs Brad Thaler said Bachus is "not as up front and blunt as Barney but shouldn't be underestimated."
Both Magill and Thaler said credit union supporter Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who ran against Bachus for the chairmanship, will have an important role to play on the panel and could help credit unions get some of their priorities. Royce is one of the two lead sponsors of legislation to raise the cap on member business lending, along with Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.), who was defeated for re-election last month.
Thaler said that credit unions will turn to several members of Congress in both parties to help with their agenda, rather than relying on just one or two.
"Because credit unions have such a presence in every district, there are many members on both sides of the aisle who are sympathetic to our positions." We will be working with a broad range of members. Who we rely on may depend on the particular issue," he said.