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WASHINGTON-House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), who has led the effort to uncover whether credit unions and other nonprofits are earning their tax-exemption, announced last week that he would be retiring from Congress at the end of his term this year. So far, Thomas had specifically targeted nonprofit hospitals and credit unions to investigate under his jurisdictions as Ways & Means chairman. However, due to Republicans’ self-imposed term limits, his rein as chairman ends this year, which many say precipitated his decision to retire from Congress. A November hearing on the credit union tax-exemption showed that there was not much appetite to tax credit unions, including from Thomas, but it stirred up the controversy of documentation of service to those of modest means and brought about NCUA’s recent proposal. In making his announcement, Thomas let it be known that he would not go quietly off into the sunset after serving 14 terms in the House. He said that pension reform would be on the near-term agenda for Congress and he would continue to work on North and South America free trade structures. Thomas listed out the many opportunities he had been given during his time in Congress to make a difference, from over $2 trillion in tax reform to Medicare to granting the president trade promotion authority. “After you’ve done that and you’ve spent the time that you have in office – 14 terms – you reach a point where Sharon and I have decided that the grand kids and other interests begin to outweigh getting on that airplane-which I’m going to do in just a couple of minutes-and fly transcontinental. [T]hen [you] operate back there as though you haven’t spent eight hours in the air and missed three hours of sleep the next morning. Twenty-eight years of that probably should be enough for anyone don’t you think?” Thomas told reporters about the timing of his retirement. He did not back anyone as his replacement for the 22nd District of California yet, but several news sources have speculated on a former staffer of his now serving in the California General Assembly. NCUA and the credit union trades representing federal charters commented respectfully upon the announcement the chairman would not be seeking re-election this fall. NCUA Director of Public and Congressional Affairs John McKechnie said the agency does not comment on particular comings and goings in Congress. He added, however, “His retirement does not affect the agency’s effort to move forward on the data collection program.” Others, beyond Chairman Thomas are expecting answers to the questions posed during the Nov. 3 hearing, he pointed out, as well as the Government Accountability Office. In an ironic twist, a report on foxnews.com stated: “Thomas taught American government at Bakersfield Community College before joining Congress in 1979. The annual financial disclosure forms lawmakers file each year showed him to be among the most modest-meaned members of Congress – he regularly listed no assets or income beyond his congressional salary, now $165,200.” NAFCU President and CEO Fred Becker said, “He successfully represented his California constituents with vigor and will be remembered as one of the hardest working and most knowledgeable members of Congress. And NAFCU applauds his continued support of credit unions’ tax-exempt status as he stated at last November’s hearing.” He wished Thomas well. Regarding the tax-exemption, CUNA President and CEO Dan Mica commented, “We have appreciated Chairman Thomas’ willingness to listen to our views on this important matter, and credit unions look forward to a continuing dialog with the leadership and members of the Ways and Means Committee, which we are convinced will continue to demonstrate that credit unions earn their tax-exempt status.” Speculation on Thomas’ next move has run amuck as the lawmaker plays his cards very close to the vest. The Washington Post suggested that he could be the next Treasury Secretary and that John Snow, who has been very supportive of the credit union tax-exemption, would not remain on through the duration of President George W. Bush’s second term. Reuters called Thomas “instrumental” in pushing President George W. Bush’s tax cuts through. He was also a powerful force behind getting Congressman John Boehner (R-Ohio) elected as majority leader. Sources did not wish to comment on the implications for credit unions of this possibility as the IRS falls under the Treasury Department. Snow, however, commented, “With Chairman Thomas’ announcement today, the Congress is losing a legislative giant. Bill Thomas has created an enviable and lasting legislative record and has proven himself to be one of the most significant and effective legislators of our time.” Thomas would not comment on his professional future, except that he intended to work. “It is really illegal to talk about lining up any kind of employment following my service to the people and so what I am going to do is to wait until that second session of this Congress is over, probably sometime in October or November,” he said. “I found that if you’re worried about where two steps from now you’re going to land, your next step may cause your problem. So let’s take it one step at a time.” -

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