Perhaps it’s the lack of teleprompters or the relatively small room, but this year’s NAFCU Congressional Caucus provided intimate, and at times revealing, speeches from lawmakers.
In contrast to the go-big production of CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference, which is equally enjoyable for different reasons, NAFCU’s advocacy event has a vibe akin to seeing a member of Congress in his or her own district, at a Rotary luncheon or touring a local business.
A prime example was Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who left the podium and spoke to NAFCU members from the floor. Having previously served seven years as a board member at the $475 million Heritage Trust Federal Credit Union, Scott has a unique credit union perspective and it showed.
Scott, who was named to the Senate earlier this year by S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Jim DeMint, also took questions from the audience. His answers were refreshingly credit union-specific and incredibly candid.
When asked how credit union executives and volunteers can best get their message across to lawmakers, the 47-year-old said he prefers in-person visits and phone calls to emails and tweets. If someone takes the time to handwrite a letter in this day and age, he said, he’ll read it. And he also urged credit unions to make use of members when advocating for credit union issues, saying, “They are voters and we work for them.”
Scott also provided an educational perspective in the differences between the Senate and the House of Representatives, where he served for two years before his Senate appointment.
The rules make all the difference. In the Senate, just one senator can really jack things up, he said.
Ain’t that the truth?
But on the upside, he said, because just 41 senators from the minority party can block a full floor vote, Republicans and Democrats must work together to resolve issues important to the country.
In comparison, on the House side, majority really does rule, so the majority party controls the dialogue. Scott joked that as a Republican, that structure worked well for him.
But what really struck me was Scott’s answer to a question about the possibility of a package bill late this year that could produce negative legislative consequences for credit unions. Not only did he say yes, that is very possible, he said out loud what most in Washington only think: lawmakers purposely put off voting on issues until the holiday season, when most voters aren’t paying attention.
That candid response revealed that Scott is pretty confident about his position in Washington, a quality he underscored by speaking far beyond his allotted time, causing House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling to take the stage 30 minutes late.
Although Hensarling joked about the delay, comparing Scott’s speech to a filibuster, the Texas Republican was clearly irritated with his former colleague for throwing his schedule behind. Scott spoke late at the 2012 Congressional Caucus too, cutting into time scheduled for NCUA Board Member Michael Fryzel to deliver his speech.
Hensarling quickly recovered and predictably pushed GSE reform, his soapbox issue. And he joined the other speakers in sharing a personal and somewhat self-deprecating story that connected with the audience: one night after his wife made him roll up his sleeves to scrub dinner dishes, he thought he got a reprieve in the form of a call from the Wall Street Journal. Turns out, the call wasn’t from a reporter, but the sales department, trying to sell him a subscription renewal.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) also got my attention with a message I addressed in my last column: the need to reduce political polarization. He told the audience to turn off FOX News and MSNBC, because they only tell part of the truth—which means I will be tuning in the next time he appears on either network to see if that message reached their producers.
He also urged the audience to reduce the power both major political parties have over the country, saying Democrats should find a Republican that supports the same issues they do, and vote for him or her. Likewise, he urged Republicans in the audience to do the same with Democrats that align with their issues.
He said that position doesn’t make his fellow Democrats happy, but he doesn’t work for them, he works for the American people. I’ve only lived in Virginia a short time, but with that speech he won me over.
Here’s hoping NAFCU members who hiked the hill last week were as convincing in their meetings.