CU-Backed Issues Likely To Get Put On The Backburner

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Budget and organizational issues will dominate the "lame-duck" session in the waning days of the 108th Congress this week, likely pushing such CU-backed issues as bankrupcty reform and CURIA off onto the 109th Congress next year.

"They will deal with the appropriations bills and get home," said CUNA's Gary Kohn, who noted the trade association will still seek opportunities to attach bankruptcy reform to any omnibus bill lawmakers take up this week.

In addition to appropriations bills, some organizational issues will also be on tap, with Nevada Democrat Harry Reid seen as the heir apparent to Tom Daschle's Minority Leader throne in the Senate following Daschle's upset in South Dakota's elections earlier this month.

Both NAFCU and CUNA expect Illinois' Dick Durbin to be named Senate Minority Whip.

Committee assignments will also be on the docket, as the Republicans took additional seats in both the House and Senate, and some chairmanships will shuffle.

"The Republicans could get an extra seat on each committee," noted Kohn. "And the Democrats may lose some of their funding for committee staff."

NAFCU's Brad Thaler said he expects to see Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) take over as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

With some newcomers to Congress and some shifting of leadership positions, credit union groups are already reaching out to develop and reinforce relationships with key players.

Helping Reduce Debt

"Of course, before the elections we offered PAC support to a number of people," noted Kohn. "And some members who have some debt they need to reduce after the election, we'll be able to help with that as well."

CUNA will also look to hold a series of meet and greets to give new legislators an opportunity to meet credit union people as well as others in Washington to "help get them some more exposure," Kohn offered, adding, "There will be many receptions and other venues that will occur in the ensuing weeks and months to ensure that we have a chance to get to know them and they will have a chance to get to know us better."

Although credit union-supported candidates did well in this year's elections, there were a few losses, and now credit union representatives need to reach out to the winners they didn't support.

"We did do some outreach even during the races," Kohn commented. "In a lot of cases, we were supporting an incumbent with a friendly credit union track record. But if the other candidate also appeared to be credit union friendly, we met with them and explained that we need to stick with our friend, but if they win we'd want to work closely with them, and if they supported our causes they would become part of the 'protected class.' They understand that, and they understand the great value of loyalty."

Orientation sessions for the newly elected lawmakers who will make up part of the 109th Congress will also be underway this week.

With all signs indicating bankruptcy reform will have to wait until next year-again-NAFCU and CUNA said they are working to ensure it is high on the priority list for the next congressional session.

In theory, with the vast majority of incumbents winning their races and returning to Congress next year, some of the wheeling and dealing that has occurred in the 108th Congress could help pave the way for a bankruptcy reform bill in the 109th, but Thaler cautioned against assuming the playing field will remain so very much the same.

The New Players

"There are some new players in Congress, so we will have to wait and see how the issues play out," he observed.

For example, New York Democrat Sen. Charles Schumer's amendment requiring that attackers of abortion clinics cannot use bankruptcy to get out of paying fines has proven an effective means of stalling the bill in the past, Thaler noted, but it's unclear whether that will be the issue this time around.

And although Republicans managed to grow their majorities in both the House and Senate and maintain the presidency doesn't mean those majorities will be big enough to overcome barriers like the Schumer amendment, as the Democrats do still have enough senators on their side of the aisle to filibuster the measure.

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