Looking For A CU Champion In Congress

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WASHINGTON – Credit union allies have always come and gone in Congress, but last week’s loss of Pennsylvania Democrat Paul Kanjorski will be a big blow to the credit union lobby–leaving them to search for a new champion.

“Congressman Kanjorski has always been a reliable supporter for credit unions and he will be missed. But we’ve always had friends on both sides of the aisle,” said Brad Thaler, senior lobbyist for NAFCU, shortly after Kanjorski was defeated in his bid for a 14th House term last week.

Members of both the House and Senate have distinguished themselves in the past as strong credit union supporters, but no one more so than Kanjorski, the 73-year-old sponsor of numerous bills critical to credit unions. His prominet support began really when he helped draft HR 1151, the 1998 CU Membership Access Act, which overturned a Supreme Court ruling invalidating multiple group credit unions, then continued on every Congress since then with one or more bills that would cut regulatory burden for credit unions, and culminated last year with his sponsorship of the corporate credit union bailout bill.

But the credit union lobby is confident another champion will emerge on Capitol Hill. The main reason, according to John Magill, chief lobbyist for CUNA, is that credit unions have always sought to be bipartisan, to not identify too much with either party. In fact, CUNA donated to candidates in almost 400 House and Senate races this year, split almost evenly between the parties. Magill and other noted that the two House members that appear to be vying to be chairman of the House Financial Services Committee under a Republican-controlled House next year, Spencer Bachus of Alabama and Ed Royce of California, have proven themselves to be reliable credit union supporters.

Bachus, one of just eight House members to vote against HR 1151 12 years ago, has grown to be a friend of credit unions, said Will McCarty, chief lobbyist for the Southeast League of CUs, who once worked on Bachus’s staff. "There's a lot of things that have happened since then," said McCarty. "We've built a very good relationship with Congressman Bachus. He's always willing to meet with us and always listens to us."

The House panel is the most important congressional committee for credit unions because it is where all financial legislation originates, before going to a vote by all House members, and then to the Senate.

Though Bachus appears to be the favorite to become the committee’s next chairman, Royce, a reliable sponsor of credit union bills, all the way back to his days in the California legislature and to HR 1151, has indicated an intention to challenge for the important post. “I think Royce clearly has the ability to take the role (of credit union champion,” said NAFCU President Fred Becker. “He’s been on most of those bills with Kanjorski.”

Under the rules, the Democrats, who led the way for credit unions in the past two Congresses, will receded to the minority next Congress. But there will still be numerous credit union supporters, even if they no longer have the ability to set the agenda on important bills. Among them are: Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who will lose the chair of the Financial Services Committee; Maxine Waters, the California Democrat and subcommittee chair; and Ed Perlmutter, the two-term member from Colorado who has emerged as one of the biggest credit union allies in Congress.

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