WASHINGTON - The two leading bank trade groups are forming a united front on Capitol Hill to push a measure that would tax credit unions and subject them to the Community Reinvestment Act.

The American Bankers Association and the Independent Bankers Association of America recognize that they face a tough fight - particularly as House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., has opposed taxing credit unions - but they insist their legislation has a chance of passing.

"The Gingrich statement is a major problem," conceded IBAA executive vice president Kenneth Guenther. "We're just going to have to persuade him that this is good government, good policy."

The trade groups' legislative proposal was unveiled three months ago by the IBAA and joined recently by the ABA.

"As the budget gets tighter, Congress is going to be looking for something to bring more money into the government," Mr. Guenther said.

He noted that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, R- Tex., hasn't said the credit unions' federal tax exemption is untouchable.

Charles O. Zuver, director of governmental affairs for the Credit Union National Association, predicted the bankers would fail.

"I like Ken (Guenther), and I think it's good that he has something to keep him off the streets," said Mr. Zuver. "I'd like to know who's going to introduce the bill and who's going to sponsor it."

Mr. Guenther said the groups haven't yet found a lawmaker to back the proposal but "it's still early."

The banking trade groups decided to collaborate this month after IBAA president John Shivers asked ABA president Howard L. McMillan Jr. to support the IBAA legislative proposal.

"For Congress to respond, we must demonstrate that the banking industry is united on this issue," Mr. Shivers wrote in a Dec. 19 letter.

In a Jan. 13 response, Mr. McMillan said the ABA would support the proposal, called the "Credit Union Reform and Regulatory Improvement Act of 1995." But he also said "targeted" efforts against credit unions might have a better chance of success.

"Instead of bringing one bill that would tax credit unions and extend CRA to credit unions, you could have one bill dealing with the tax issue and other bills dealing with other issues," said ABA spokeswoman Charlotte Birch.

This multipronged approach would avoid a "sink-or-swim" attack, Ms. Birch said.

Although the legislative route will be tough going, it has better prospects for success than the ABA's legal efforts to rein in credit unions, Mr. Shivers suggested in his letter.

Bankers are losing three of the eight cases brought against credit unions and their regulators over expansions; the other five are pending.

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