'Do Nothing' Congress Stymies CU Progress

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Credit union lobbyists are reluctant to criticize the hands that feed them but a certain frustration among the credit union trade groups is palpable as it has become clear that all the credit union legislative initiatives have been stopped in their tracks by a failure by Congress to act.

From the bankruptcy reform bill that has broad bipartisan support to regulatory relief to the credit union-specific Credit Union Regulatory Improvement Act, or CURIA, lawmakers have sat on their hands, deciding against bringing these bills to any kind of finality.

Credit union lobbyists are sanguine about the process, though conceding frustration on several fronts.

After all, it's been four congresses and eight years for the bankruptcy reform bill that has broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

So why can't Congress finally pass the thing? And the regulatory relief bill is going nowhere for the second straight Congress. And there will be no action on CURIA, either.

Passage earlier in the session of the bill reauthorizing the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and Check 21, were no-brainers, with little opposition to either.

But it's not just credit union issues, of course, that have failed to come to some kind of resolution. Bills that would seem to be a 'slam-dunk,' such as the proposal to simply move the regulator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from one agency to another, have not even come to a vote as powerful constituencies have made lawmakers afraid of action.

And the annual budget process continues to be so muddled, leaving open the possibility, again, that Congress will end this fiscal year on Sept. 30 without a budget for the next fiscal year.

The process on Capitol Hill has become such a joke that the House has taken to intentionally re-voting several bills it has already passed by adding minor changes, in order to call attention to what little they have achieved.

All of this inaction has made the 108th the 'do nothing' Congress in the eyes of many, to use a term originally attributed to President Harry Truman when referring to the 80th Congress.

There are several reasons, but few legitimate excuses, for the inaction.

One is that Congress is preoccupied by the war in Iraq, and even frozen by the rising casualty toll. The war dominates every day discussion in the nation's capital.

Another is that the exploding federal budget deficit, estimated at around $450 billion, has so affected lawmakers that once routine questions on spending have become major debates.

The burgeoning deficit will virtually eliminate the possibility of any new programs in the foreseeable, as did the record deficits of the 1980s.

And last is that progress on major legislative initiatives is being held up by Democrats who almost have veto power in the Senate by virtue of the cloture rule, which requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

But it's hard to see the veracity of this reason with the Republicans holding control over the House and Senate and the White House.

Still, there will be little change in the make-up of the Congress in this fall's elections as lawmakers have positioned themselves for almost certain reelection.

The redistricting of the past few years has left few districts open to new competition. In fact, in the last elections there were only four incumbents in the House defeated for reelection.

This created a record reelection rate of more than 99%. And this year there are even fewer races that will be closely contested. As a result, the Republicans are universally expected to retain control of the House in the next Congress.

The real action is expected to be in the Senatorial race, where Democrats could re-take control.

Watch the races in Illinois (where, at press time, the Republican party had yet to find a candidate to run for the open seat) Alaska, South Carolina, North Carolina, South Dakota, Washington, Louisiana, Georgia and Colorado.

But even if the Democrats win control of the Senate it will probably be by just a few seats, putting the Republicans in the blocking position the Democrats now hold.

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