Is It Time To Turn Out The ‘Lites,’ Or Is The Party Not Over?

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First there was (and is) CURIA, and with it much hope and optimism and, naturally, lots of PAC money. And then there was (and is) CURRA, and with it there was tempered hope and semi-resigned optimism, but still, naturally, lots of PAC money. And now there is (and may be) CUBTRRA, which is about as easy to pronounce as it is to deduce whether credit unions should be pleased or pickled over it. Regardless, there is still expected to be lots of PAC money.

Like most things that come out of Congress, there’s no clear-cut answer as to whether the Credit Union, Bank and Thrift Regulatory Relief Act is worth a handshake or a shake of the head. As the story on page 1 of this issue reports, the House passed a long-awaited credit union regulatory relief bill last week after standing tough the old-fashioned way in the face of strong bank and thrift opposition–by caving into the banks and thrifts and throwing a package of goodies in for them, as well.

The bill, which passed the House easily and is now on its way to the Senate, is the latest offspring of the Credit Union Regulatory Improvement Act (CURIA), which has seemingly been in Congress since Robert Byrd was known as the junior senator from West Virginia. Despite 150 co-sponsors CURIA has languished in this Congress as it did in several before it, and credit unions legitimately demanded to know from their trade associations if all those golf tournaments and walk-a-thons to raise money for the PAC weren’t going wasted. That led to–keep your acronym dictionary handy–CURRA, the Credit Union Regulatory Relief Act, a slimmied down version of CURIA that some dubbed “CURIA Lite.”

But CURRA was no cure, either, and with the CU trade groups eager to show they are earning those dues dollars, and with Congress eager to earn those PAC dollars in an election year, the result is CUBTRRA–CURIA Lite Lite, if you will. The primary drivers for CURIA was and is to get relief from the member business lending cap and, in an ideal world, access to alternative capital. CUBTRAA contains provisions for neither, but does ease restrictions on some other areas on which credit unions have sought help. It’s a little like awaiting seats behind home plate at Wrigley Field and then ending up with some Uecker seats in the upper deck out in right; you’re disappointed you’re not down in the front rrooowww, but at least you’re in the ballpark.

Depending on what the Senate does, the question is still whether credit unions will keep batting.

* Much has been written about a kinder, gentler New York City since the tragedies of Sept. 11. With CUNA hosting credit unions in the Big Apple this week for its America’s Credit Union Conference, it would seem the country’s “nice” financial folks will be interacting with the newly nice (it’s relative) New Yorkers. But things may be returning to normal. In Lower Manhattan three weeks ago I watched as a handicapped girl in a wheelchair was being lowered by a lift from a school bus to the sidewalk. Behind the school bus, four drivers never let off their horns in trying to get the girl and the school bus the heck out of the way.

* From the Damned By Faint Praise Department: Perhaps no tool has offered more insights into what everyday consumers think of their credit union than have blogs. If you’re not monitoring them, you should. In one recent post on a writer talked about how hard it was to resolve an issue with her bank, while it was easy to do so with her credit union. “It makes me a believer in the power of small credit unions to deliver great service and rates,” the blogger told the world, before adding, “even if the online banking client looks like it was developed in the late 70s!”

Frank J. Diekmann is Publisher of Credit Union Journal and can be reached at fdiekmann (c) 2008 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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