WASHINGTON -- The Republican takeover of Congress should dim the spotlight credit unions have been swearing under on Capitol Hill, lobbyists said.
"Credit unions aren't on the radar screen" of the new leadership in both houses, said David John, a lobbyist for the National Association of Federal Credit Unions.
The change in leadership couldn't come at a better time for the industry.
It's likely that House Banking Committee Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez's wide-ranging investigation of the industry, spurred by U.S. Central Credit Union's $255 million investment in a troubled Spanish bank, will peter out.
"We don't know quite what will happen, but the Republicans didn't seem particularly interested in it," Mr. John said.
Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy 2d's effort to extend the Community Reinvestment Act to the industry is also expected to fade.
As chairman of the subcommittee on consumer credit and insurance, the Massachusetts Democrat held a hearing on the subject in September.
He's expected to renew his attack on the credit union industry's CRA exemption during a Nov. 29 hearing on enforcement of fair-lending laws.
For new ammunition, Rep. Kennedy plans to use 1993 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data that show credit unions are more than twice as likely to reject a black mortgage applicant as a white one.
A Republican staff aide said neither effort commanded much support from the new majority.
While credit union lobbyists were confident, that the industry has dodged some problems, they were reluctant to predict what the new COP-led Congress will do.
"Until we see the committee structure, it's too early to tell," said Charles O. Zuver, director of legislative affairs for the Credit Union National Association. But he added, "In the past Republicans have said they favor less government regulation."
The Republican takeover could lead to some dangers.
Mr. John said Republicans might consider amending the CRA in a way that would reduce paperwork but extend coverage to other industries, including credit unions.
Jeanne-Marie Murphy, a lobbyist for the Credit Union National Association, said the industry's tax exemption might come under fire.
With President Clinton pushing for deficit reduction and Republicans calling for a balanced budget, the exemption is particularly vulnerable now.
"Any time you talk about deficit reduction or balancing the budget, taking away the tax exemption will come up," Ms. Murphy said.
Mr. John disagreed: "I don't see any indication that Republicans are going to be interested in raising taxes in any form at this point," said Mr. John. "A Republican strategist told me they are extremely aware things could change. They wouldn't go out of their way to alienate any constituency."
Although many credit union backers were defeated -- including Sen. Jim Sasser, D-Tenn.; Sen. Hams Wofford, D-Pa.; Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill.; and Rep. Larry LaRocco, D-Idaho -- the industry still enjoys substantial bipartisan support.
Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., and Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, the future Republican banking committee chairmen, both are seen as industry friends.
"Republicans like credit unions because they see them as grass-roots capitalism; Democrats like credit unions because they're cooperatives," Mr. John said.
Through political action committee contributions and volunteers, the industry helped elect two House candidates with industry experience: Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Frank Mascara, D-Pa.
Rep. Wicker is a former credit union board member, and Rep. Mascara helped found a credit union.