As the National Credit Union Administration sifts through nearly 400 comment letters regarding its credit union membership proposal, contradictory missives from two Democratic lawmakers stand out.

In separate letters dated Nov. 12, Reps. Paul E. Kanjorski and John J. LaFalce-who played key roles in engineering the new credit union law - offered very different recollections of their colleagues' intent.

Rep. Kanjorski, a Pennsylvanian who co-authored the original House bill, said Congress expected the NCUA to draft a permissive rule on credit union membership and growth.

"As a general guiding principle, I hope the NCUA will focus on the fact that ... the title of the act is the 'Credit Union Membership Access Act,'" he wrote. "Any ambiguities in the language should be resolved in favor of granting the broadest possible consumer access to credit union membership."

But Rep. LaFalce, House Banking's ranking Democrat, offered a much more restrictive take on the legislative history. Acknowledging that senior Banking Committee members meant to let credit unions expand their membership, he said lawmakers also "sought to limit or restrict this expansion in ways that would reinforce traditional credit union principles and address competitive concerns of other financial institutions."

In an interview Monday, NCUA board member Yolanda T. Wheat played down the letters, noting that only two of 435 representatives and no senators wrote to the agency.

But lawyers and trade group representatives said Rep. LaFalce's letter could persuade the agency to tighten the rule, which is to be issued next month.

Richard S. Garabedian, a partner in Silver, Freedman & Taff law firm here, said "the banking industry couldn't ask for a better comment letter" than Rep. LaFalce's. "If LaFalce feels that way," he said, "I think that the NCUA would be well served to temper how it's going to handle those rules." Charlotte M. Bahin, regulatory counsel at America's Community Bankers, agreed, saying she was "heartened" by the New York lawmaker's comments.

Even if the NCUA does not back off its proposal, the new credit union law gives Congress 60 days to review key parts of the final rule.

The membership rule has been a source of controversy since first proposed on Aug. 31.

It would let existing occupation-based credit unions accept members from other firms provided those companies have fewer than 3,000 employees. The proposal also would grant charters to new community-based credit unions, provided their city or county has fewer than 300,000 people.

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