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Foe-Turned-CU Friend Vies To Head Committee

With just three months remaining on the legislative calendar, Alabama Congressman Spencer Bachus, a one-time credit union opponent turned supporter, has emerged as one of two favorites to chair the House Financial Services Committee in the next Congress.

Bachus was one of just six House members to vote against HR 1151, the landmark 1998 CU Membership Access Act, but has been keenly courted by the credit union lobby since then. NAFCU has been especially courteous of the seven-term House member, inviting to speak at the group's annual Congressional Caucus and working closely with him and his staff on numerous issue.

As a result, Bachus has turned out to be a strong defender of credit unions during the last four years as chair of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions. Among other things, he has sponsored a bill pushed mainly by NAFCU to allow credit unions to continue "pooling" their capital after merging, which would override a pending rule by the Financial Accounting Standards Board. He has also indicated willingness on numerous regulatory relief measures, though he has yet to fulfill a pledge to hold a hearing on the CU Regulatory Relief Act, better known as CURIA.

But just as importantly in the race to chair the full committee is the fact that Bachus' leadership PAC, known as Growth and Prosperity PAC, has contributed more than $600,000 to fellow candidates, building key support among the Republican caucus. The ability to raise money and dole it out to needy party candidates has become perhaps the major qualification for committee chairmen.

That's twice the amount contributed to fellow candidates by Bachus' main rival, Louisiana Congressman Richard Baker, whose Back America's Conservatives PAC, or BacPac, has contributed about $300,000 to fellow Republicans.

Baker also has a lesser record of support for credit unions. But more important, Baker has antagonized some powerful interests on Capitol Hill by his position as the leading advocate to rein in the Government Sponsored Enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. More recently, Baker, who has taken a leading role in congressional efforts to rebuild his home state after the Hurricane Katrina devastation, has run afoul of some members of his own party and of the White House, which has different plans for the rebuilding.

CUNA has contributed $10,000 to each of the leadership PACs and the maximum $10,000 to each of their personal campaign PACs. NAFCU has also contributed to both candidates.

One of the two lawmakers are widely expected to succeed Ohio's Michael Oxley, who is retiring from Congress, as the next committee chair. The support of the Financial Services Committee Chairman will be critical for credit unions legislative priorities, including CURIA.

Should Bachus win the race to head the panel it would create an unusual scenario where lawmakers from the same state chair the banking committees in the House and Senate at the same time, as Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby will continue to head the Senate Banking Committee in the next Congress if the GOP retains control of the Senate.

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