WASHINGTON – Banks are always analyzing regs and legislation concerning credit unions, so maybe it's time credit unions returned the favor, said CUNA President/CEO Dan Mica. Mica said that while credit unions have built up an impressive financial and lobbying presence in Washington and are gaining respect and recognition, they should not stop politicking there. Credit unions still lack one thing that the big boys of Capitol Hill, like AARP and the National Rifle Association, have, Mica said. Credit unions are not yet feared. The credit union leader and former congressman said he is "considering attempting to lead the [CUNA] Board and the movement in more of an aggressive and proactive approach." By that, Mica explained, he means that credit unions need to look at bank legislation and regulations as issues come up and consider whether to weigh in on them or not. He said he does not feel taking a more aggressive approach will tarnish the credit union movement's `white hat' image. "It depends on what we do and how we do it," Mica said. He said credit unions should not use the bankers' tactics after H.R. 1151, when he recounted bankers actually told the bill's supporters they would not be contributing to their campaigns and would try to defeat them. Mica said that if you really feel a lawmaker needs to be replaced, credit unions just need to support a qualified opponent and not make any threats. He added that credit unions should not attack every little thing in favor of the banks, like the bankers groups have done to credit unions. But, Mica said, "Time and again, the banks have stepped forward and asked for [things] that were not in the public's interest." CUNA's Board will be considering whether to take more aggressive measures in the future soon, he promised. As CUNA weighs that issue, Mica commented on the politics of Capitol Hill, an issue the former congressman knows a lot about and something on the minds of GAC attendees. "It isn't politics versus policy; they're one and the same." "You cannot ever think you can win on a subject on substance. You can't ever think you can win on a subject on policy," he said. "It just doesn't work that way." In explaining his views on the issue, NAFCU Senior Vice President and General Counsel Bill Donovan repeated a maxim famous in Washington and around the country: "All politics is local." This is fortunately true for credit unions, he said. "Because of the broad base of credit union membership throughout the country with credit unions and credit union members in every congressional district in the country, credit unions certainly are well situated to gain the ear of their lawmakers," Donovan said. "In that respect, the political dynamics, the politics that drive lawmaking at the congressional level in Washington is very much fueled and driven by the people at home." NAFCU's 24-year veteran added, "The credit union movement was established to meet the needs of hardworking, honest, ordinary citizens and those are the people that members of Congress also want to listen to from the home front." As with any other aspect of credit union business, relationships are crucial. Mica relayed a story from his days in the House of Representatives when he was trying to get funding in his district for an historic park area. He described it as a small project, but he was unable to obtain the funding he needed because he did not know any of the related committee members very well. It came to happen that the committee chairman was traveling to Florida and asked Mica for help with fair priced lodging and other travel plans. After the chairman returned to Washington, he realized he had forgotten some personal items at his hotel and asked Mica to have someone from his office pick them up and bring them back to Washington on their next trip, which Mica obliged. Toward the end of that session, the chief of staff of the committee called Mica's office and told them to look in the Congressional Record that day; in there was the funding for the park. The former lawmaker remarked that he had seen relationships like that used and abused. Partisanship seems to have gotten in the way of lawmaking as of late. "I think right now it's more partisan than I've ever seen," Mica acknowledged. This should not hamper credit unions' objectives, according to Donovan, because since he has been working in the credit union community, and probably since credit unions came into existence in America, they have enjoyed strong bipartisan support. He said the self-described liberals support credit unions' social perspective, while conservatives like their philosophy because it's based on self-help and avoids "tapping taxpayers' pocketbook." However, one of credit unions' top legislative efforts, bankruptcy reform seems to have been caught up in the partisanship and politics that is legislating. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) inserted language into the bankruptcy reform bill that would exempt those fined for clinic violence from filing for bankruptcy protection to escape those fines, which turned the bill into a pro-life/pro-choice issue for many lawmakers. CUNA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs John McKechnie supported Schumer's right to introduce that language, even though it inhibited the credit union-backed bill's passage. "If you think something needs to be addressed in legislation, it's his obligation to do that kind of thing," he said. "Not to say I agree or disagree with the substance of it, but he would be derelict in his duties as a Senator if he saw that bill moving, saw a problem that needed to be addressed, and didn't do something." "In this case, the politics of the bankruptcy reform debate have shaped the content of the bankruptcy bill," Donovan said. "So, in this case, a number of lawmakers who are sympathetic to the need for bankruptcy reform are unwilling to support the measure because of some very narrow, but very important substantive provisions that have been included that have little if anything to do with bankruptcy and much more to do with social policy." While the delay has been very frustrating for the bill's supporters, the system is appropriate. "While in the short run, that can be very frustrating to individuals who are trying to move legislation through the process, in the long-run, that system has proven very sound," Donovan observed "It became apparent to me pretty early, at least working here in Washington, that Congress is not really a legislative body as much as it's a political body. That is to say that everything that Congress does is impacted by what the politics of a given situation are. I always laugh when I hear people say, `Oh, it's getting too political.' Well that's what it's supposed to be.Everything's supposed to be political," McKechnie agree. The idea behind a representative democracy is that the representatives will be responsive to political pressures, he explained. As far as being able to play the political game, McKechnie said, "There's no mystery to it." All three trade group officials said the key to good politicking is building and nurturing relationships, knowing the issues and being engaged, and honesty and integrity. Donovan added that it is imperative to know and be in touch with your constituency, whether lawmaker or lobbyist. According to Mica, effective politickers always make a case for good policy, substance, and politics; never personalize issues; and never think `compromise' just to make opponents go away, unless in emergency. Finally, he advised, "The best battles are the ones that are never fought." He said that if lawmakers know and respect an individual or group enough, they could seek out their opinions in advance, which could quash disagreeable issues before they ever surface. [email protected]

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