A Legislation Commemoration

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Credit union and congressional dignitaries gathered in Washington last week for a CUNA- hosted event at Credit Union House marking the fifth anniversary of the passage of The Credit Union Membership Access Act (HR 1151).

While the passage of that bill and what it has meant to credit unions has been well-documented, there were still some surprises revealed, including Rep. Steve LaTourette's admission that after he agreed to become Republican co-sponsor of the bill, a prominent bank in his home state of Ohio made it clear the move would cost him his re-election.

Below are excerpts of some of the observations shared during the luncheon:

CUNA CEO Dan Mica: "I wondered, should we call (this luncheon) a celebration or a commemoration. I believe a commemoration, because we have not won all that we need to win. If the Supreme Court decision (in the AT&T Family case) had been allowed to stand, we would have lost 20 to 30 million members. Now, I think in large part what we did was save the credit union movement. I believe very strongly that without that victory, we would not have a credit union movement today. We are now at 84-million members strong, and if we weren't here there would be no checks and balances on the banking system. We have learned that we can no longer only come to Washington when we want to ask for something. We need a constant presence, which is one reason Credit Union House is here. All in all, we learned a lot, but it's time to reflect on what we can do better."

Rep. Paul Kanjorski: "I never belonged to a credit union until I came to Washington. I used to have 13 bank accounts; today I have zero. When (Dan Mica) talked to me about the case that was on its way to the Supreme Court, we all thought there was no way it would rule the way it did and there were few in this city more shocked than I was when that decision came down. This house is a recognition of the maturity of credit unions. You were the last group in Washington to recognize your own power. Now you're on the first rung. I'm proud now to be a part of the bill, but I'm more proud to be a part of a family. This family is very important to me, and you are very, very important to a lot of people. Keep it up; do your work."

While Kanjorski's words were full of praise for credit unions, he did note that he didn't agree with the CU position on bankruptcy reform. "I think credit unions need to be sensitive to the overwhelming amount of credit being extended to citizens without strings, particularly on credit cards."

Rep. Steve LaTourette: "I got a call one day from (then Speaker) Newt Gingrich saying they were having trouble getting a Republican co-sponsor for the credit union bill. After I agreed, I got a call from (an executive) with Bank One (then headquartered in LaTourette's home state of Ohio) and I was told, 'You've lost all your friends, and you're gong to lose $50,000 to $70,000 in contributions. You had a promising career, and now it's over.' To me this was about right and wrong, and this was right. 1151 did change the dynamic."

NCUA Chairman Dennis Dollar: "In 1996, when the AT&T case was going through the courts, I was in Southern Mississippi running for Congress hoping to someday be one of the co-sponsors of what would be HR 1151. After I lost, little did I know that nine months later I would be nominated for the NCUA board and ultimately implementing HR 1151. I believe that for all of us all that we can hope for is to look back at our life and say we left it better than we found it. You (Sen. Sarbanes and Rep. Sarbanes and Kanjorski) have left it better, and we at NCUA are trying to leave it better than we found it."

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