U.S. Rep. says Congress must 'level the playing field' for credit unions

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From his time as director of marketing for Columbia Community Credit Union in Vancouver, Wash., to the past five years in the halls of Congress as a United States Representative, Denny Heck keeps the credit union philosophy at the forefront of his mind.

Heck, a Democrat, has served in Congress since 2013, representing Washington’s 10th congressional district, which includes state capital of Olympia and part of Tacoma. Particularly of note to credit unions, he twice co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to delay implementation of the National Credit Union Administration’s risk-based capital rule.

Currently running for reelection, Heck said many of the same principles he lived by as a credit union employee apply to holding office.

“Usually when I talk about my job at Columbia Community Credit Union, I describe it as the easiest job I ever had because my job was to sell people on credit union membership, and the product basically sold itself,” he said. “The credit union’s emphasis on member service – and how that translates to lower rates and friendlier products – is something I always keep in mind for public service. If the people I represent do not feel as if their tax dollars are going toward a system that works for them, then we lose their faith. But if we offer them a great return, they will be confident about our role in society and what it means for them.”

Asked what his legislative priorities might be for the next session of Congress – assuming he is reelected – Heck included a hot-button issue for many in the credit union movement: marijuana banking.

Heck said he is “anxious to finally resolve the differences in federal and state law when it comes to allowing legally constituted marijuana businesses access to depository institutions such as credit unions,” though he did not offer details on how that might be accomplished. Along with that, however, Heck said he intends to focus on “policy ideas to build up more housing supply,” as well as reauthorizing the Export Import Bank and updating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to ensure military members receive effective consumer protections.

While Heck’s proposal to delay RBC implementation appears stalled for now, the Washington Democrat said he was nonetheless pleased to see NCUA put forth its own proposal to delay the rule, even if only for one year.

“Eventually, we would like to see all small credit unions be exempt from the risk-based capital rule. I think this is a common sense place for Congress to act in order to level the playing field,” he said.

Despite the partisanship that has plagued Washington, D.C., for years – which in many cases has made it difficult to get legislation passed – Heck says he tries to avoid giving too much thought to political polarization, saying, “It has always been there and it is not going away any time soon.”

“What I think of is issues both sides care about, such as when will American workers get a raise? How can we help more people achieve homeownership? How can we help people save for retirement? Credit unions are a part of all of that, and I will work with any member of the House Financial Services Committee if it means improving the financial system for hard-working Americans.”

No matter the political climate, Heck added, credit union priorities continue to make waves through the legislature thanks to the movement’s effective advocacy work.

“When we have an important legislative proposal, it is a much easier sell because the critical role of credit unions has already been established by local voices that members [of Congress] trust the most,” he said

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Elections Marijuana banking Risk-based capital rule Risk-based capital Law and regulation J. Mark McWatters Mark McWatters NCUA Washington