An Odd Champion, Bachus Chides Bankers

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Rep. Spencer Bachus would seem to be an odd sort to pose as the resident credit union champion in Congress. After all, the Alabama Republican was one of just 7 House members voting against HR 1151, the landmark bill known as the CU Membership Access Act; bucking 411 of his colleagues who voted to pass the measure.

That was after Bachus, as chairman of what was then known as the House Banking Committee's Financial Institutions Subcommittee, spent considerable time and resources embarrassing NCUA and its board members over the hiring scandal in which agency officials were encouraged to skirt federal hiring rules to expand the agency's minority and female workforce.

Yet, it's the same lawmaker who has positioned himself as the main supporter of a regulatory relief package that is heavily weighted with credit union goodies. But it is that earlier stance by Bachus that may help credit unions to weather a fierce attack on their bill by the powerful banking lobby. After all, Bachus noted during last month's hearing on the bill, no one familiar with his record can accuse him of "carrying water" for the credit unions.

After withering criticisms by each of the main banking groups-American Bankers Association, Independent Community Bankers Association and America's Community Bankers-Bachus called for a halt in hostilities. "Ever been in a food fight?" he asked the witnesses at the April 25th hearing. "Food fights get you in trouble when you're in school. They're usually not that constructive."

He was responding to calls from the banking lobbyists to erase from the regulatory relief bill provisions that would further ease regulatory restrictions on field of membership (FOM), member business loans (MBLs), voluntary mergers, and membership in the Federal Home Loan Bank System by privately insured CUs, among other things.

Bachus questioned the bankers' assertions that credit unions are increasingly encroaching on their markets and said there is little evidence to support the bankers' claims that credit unions are increasing market share at their expense. "We do not want to do anything in the bill that will give a credit union an unfair advantage over a bank," he stated. "What we want to concentrate on is a win-win situation."

He went on the chastise the banking lobbyists for their focus on defeating the credit union provisions in the bill. "I want you to use your dynamite and political might in looking for ways that will benefit consumers and eliminate red tape in a constructive way," he urged. Then Bachus noted what was already apparent to observers, "I'm not sure that we'll get a bill if we continue to argue if credit unions get something."

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