Bank Bill Calculus: 59-1 = Last Chance For CUs

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WASHINGTON – The credit union lobby, reluctant to be seen as "grave dancers," was calculating what yesterday's death of long-time West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd will mean to the Senate's expected vote on the bank bill later this week, which was going to be very close already.

The passing of the 92-year-old Senator gives the Democrats a certain 58 votes, two shy of the necessary 60 to overcome an expected filibuster by the Senate's Republicans, who have massed against the bank bill for months. That means the Senate Democrats, who had one member not vote when the bill passed the chamber last month, need to hold at least one of the four Republicans who voted for the bill the last time, and at least one, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, appeared to waver in his support yesterday.

But the credit union lobby, which has turned against the bill because of the interchange amendment that will designate the Federal Reserve as a price setter for debit card transaction fees, was clinging to a fiber of hope yesterday in their bid to defeat the bill from final passage in the Senate. "It continues to be a steep uphill fight," John Magill, chief lobbyist for CUNA, told Credit Union Journal yesterday. "It will be extremely difficult to turn this around, given the significant weight the Democratic leaders have put behind it."

Meantime, the House is widely expected to pass the bill today, after House and Senate leaders worked for two weeks to reconcile the different versions of the massive measure – more than 2,000 pages long – passed by each chamber.

The Senate vote is expected to be so close after the passing of Byrd, that some Capitol Hill observers were wondering yesterday whether a final Senate vote will be delayed until after Byrd's funeral, perhaps until next week.

The credit unions, who are joined in their efforts to defeat the bill by the bankers, concede that they are walking a fine line in lobbying against the bank bill and don't want to be seen as taking advantage of the death of a congressional icon such as Byrd, the longest-serving member of Congress in history. "It's a fine balance," said Magill. "This is going to be very difficult."

 

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