House Speaker Newt Gingrich was the unseen force driving the House Banking Committee's action on credit union legislation last week. The nearly seven-hour committee vote Thursday was full of drama as lawmakers clashed over amendments to clamp down on commercial lending by credit unions and to drop community reinvestment requirements from the bill.
The action behind the scenes, however, dictated the outcome. Rep. Gingrich pulled strings before and during the meeting to ensure controversial amendments were defeated or withdrawn.
In the end, the committee approved the bipartisan compromise that had been worked out ahead of time behind closed doors. It would let occupation- based credit unions serve companies outside their common bond with as many as 3,000 employees but would impose bank-like regulations on the nonprofits.
"They pulled out all the stops," said Paul A. Schosberg, president of America's Community Bankers. "There was a ton of arm-twisting, intimidation, and cajoling."
Observers saw the effort as a clear sign that Republican leaders wanted a credit union bill they could use to gain support for the controversial financial reform bill. The two measures were combined by the Rules Committee on Monday.
"There was significant leadership interest in this package moving forward without any modifications," said Rep. Richard H. Baker, R-La., whose controversial amendment to limit commercial lending by credit unions failed on a 27-25 vote.
Republican committee members got calls and messages from Rep. Gingrich and Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, who leads the congressional task force overseeing financial reform legislation. And Rep. Gingrich's policy director, Jack Howard, attended the committee meeting to make sure everyone stayed with the script.
Rep. Baker said that his amendment had enough votes to win until the opposition regrouped during a long break for unrelated votes on the floor. "When I came back from the recess, I knew I was in trouble," he said. "The lobbying effort by both the credit unions and the leadership during that break determined the outcome of that amendment.
"I honestly don't recall a time when there was as much direct intervention in the committee's proceedings."
During House Banking's votes, Credit Union National Association president Daniel A. Mica was a study in lobbying technique. Before the hearing, he took the unusual step of introducing himself to each reporter at the packed press table. Foreshadowing the political deal that would unfold, Mr. Mica said credit unions would support the compromise as long as committee leaders protected the bill from any significant amendment.
Showing up his colleagues at other trade groups, Mr. Mica, a former Democratic congressman from Florida, worked the committee room and nearby hallways. For example, before Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy 2d introduced a sensitive amendment affecting community reinvestment requirements for credit unions, Mr. Mica had a private chat with the Massachusetts Democrat outside the hearing room. Later, as lawmakers fiercely debated business lending limits, credit union ally Paul E. Kanjorksi, D-Pa., walked over to confer with Mr. Mica. And when the balloting was over, Mr. Mica walked over to the podium, shook hands with House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach and signaled the two would talk later by phone.
Robert A. Rusbuldt, senior vice president of government affairs for the Independent Insurance Agents of America, poked fun at his habit of proving his close ties to Republican leaders by shamelessly dropping names. In a video spoof presented at the group's annual legislative conference last week, Mr. Rusbuldt was pictured snoozing at his desk. To avoid a call from IIAA president Bud Wilson, Mr. Rusbuldt looks up and says: "Tell him I am in a meeting with Newt Gingrich right now and I can't be disturbed."