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Putting George Back Together

Turning CUs Loose On Economy

Bob Arnould, SVP-Government Affairs
California Credit Union League, Rancho Cucamonga

Bob Arnould would place the country's future squarely in the arms of credit unions, eliminating membership restrictions on all CUs, as well as the member business lending cap, "and infuse the credit union system with money and personnel and turn credit unions loose to revitalize the economy."

President Arnould said his decision would not only place money into responsible hands, but would jump start business lending, a pivotal step in turning the economy around, Arnould said. The banks' actions that helped lead the economy into recession and the huge executive bonuses paid after taking bailout money illustrate that banks are not the ones to lead the country out of "this mess," insisted Arnould.

"Credit unions are the part of the financial system the people of America can trust, and they should put their faith in us."

"The bailout should not be used to shore up emergency situations, and should instead be thoughtfully invested in ways that would encourage more lending, investment, and business development," Arnould continued. "Because the government allowed things to reach a crisis point, they ended up putting out fires instead of investing for longer-term solutions."

Job #1? Identifying Job #1

Greg Blount, President and CEO
Tropical Financial CU, Pembroke Pines, Fla.

With all of the issues facing the country, focus would be top priority for Greg Blount's administration. "We can't go down too many paths at once," offered Blount, who said short-term goals will outweigh longer-term initiatives at the start.

Blount's priorities would be the economy and restoring American confidence, and stabilizing unemployment, home values, and the financial markets. "When I begin to spend my stimulus package, I want to make sure I am doing everything possible in those areas before I spend a dime anywhere else."

To stimulate jobs, Blount would get money into the hands of consumers through tax cuts-including elimination of the gasoline tax. "I'd get dollars into the peoples' pockets and get them spending again," said Blount, who acknowledged plans also have to provide incentives for people to part with their extra cash. "What good are the dollars if people don't spend them?"

To stop the freefall in home values, Blount would also provide incentives on home purchases, possibly guarantee lower interest rates, or breaks on closing costs and downpayments, particularly for first-time homebuyers. Blount feels the Bush and Obama administrations headed in the right direction to stabilize financial markets. "But as president I would eliminate this mark-to-market accounting mechanism that financial institutions are having such problems with."

Blount recognized that there are many long-term issues, such as infrastructure and Social Security, that will simply have to be dealt with later. As for the so-called "bailout," Blount said, "The bailout has to continue until we reach some level of stabilization and get people confident that the world is not coming to an end and it's not the second coming of the 1930s," he explained. "So whatever the price, it's appropriate utilization of funds to undergird the financial system."

No Bail, Let Them Fail

Chuck Bruen, President and CEO
First Entertainment CU, Hollywood, Calif.

The free market system would determine the country's economic direction, under Chuck Bruen's leadership.

"I would let some of these companies fail," Bruen said. "I know that may seem radical, but you have all of these lenders that took an inappropriate amount of risk that led to all of the problems, and as a taxpayer, president or not, I am not inclined to bail them out."

Big government and bailouts are not the answer, insisted Bruen, a self-described right-wing conservative. "Let the free market be the free market and let it go at that. The government should not micromanage this. Take it back to capitalism and let the market decide who survives. The free market system has worked for hundreds of years and I don't think the government comes in and protects us against the risks we take."

Giving An Ear To The People

John Deese, President and CEO
PBC CU, West Palm Beach, Fla.

It's time to focus on Main Street and listen to the voices and opinions of average people. It's that simple, asserted John Deese. "The government really isn't listening to the people they govern. I would listen to the people, learn from them, and get their suggestions and recommendations."

As president, Deese would set up "think tanks" across the nation comprised of ordinary Americans and leaders of small and mid-sized businesses. "No Fortune 500 company CEOs. I would have the person who owns the dry cleaning store, the man who runs the paper route, as well as executives from local companies-just not the huge companies. Those big company CEOs don't have the same perspective as a fireman going to work everyday, supporting his wife and three kids."

Deese insisted a grassroots effort is needed because the opposite approach, listening to the big banks and throwing money at them, has not produced results.

Better education around the cyclical nature of economies will not only provide better understanding around the actions that need to be taken by all, but will allay some of the fear that's helping drive the economy downward, Deese said. "We have members walking away from their homes because they think that's the right thing to do. If they were better educated and realized that even though they might owe more than their home is worth today, in five to 10 years that value will be replenished. I can't tell you how many of our members have had the same job, nothing has changed in their lives, and they want us to agree to a short sale because they think their house is worth $50,000 less and they want out."

As for the so-called "bailout" or "stimulus" package, Deese added, ""I would take the same grassroots approach. I know there are big problems, such as GM, that are making the news. But in reality, small companies employ more people. So we have to go to them and find out what we can do to help them."

A Pragmatic Conservative View

Dennis Dollar, Principal Partner 
Dollar Associates, Birmingham, Ala.

Dennis Dollar, a former state legislator in Mississippi (first elected at age 22), and later chairman of NCUA, would seek to influence decision-making to develop "solutions to the present debacle that would be marketplace-based and backed up by a series of well-structured government guarantees, rather than totally government driven," he said.

Even in a crisis, "excessive amount" of government involvement can make it difficult to sort out "who is responsible for what" in our nation's economic structure, Dollar said.

"That being said, there are certainly times where a situation is so dire that the marketplace needs the psychological assurance that only a government backstop can provide," asserted Dollar. "This is one of those times when even a good, free-market conservative realizes that the government must, appropriately and with a measured plan, directly increase its involvement in the nation's economy in order to bring about the confidence necessary to get markets healthy again."

Dollar would support plans to utilize a proper role of government while still keeping the private sector in charge of lending.

"My congressional request would likely be to have the experts look into a mortgage program that had both a government guarantee and a government payoff on the balance due on a fixed, lower-interest, 40-year mortgage if the borrower has made the first 30 years of payments," explained Dollar. "This would lower monthly payments into a more affordable range because of the lower interest rate and 40-year term. Yet it would give borrowers the primary responsibility to earn the government payoff of the last 10 years of principal in return for their performance on the mortgage."

Without detailed numbers to support his plans, Dollar felt that such a program would cost taxpayers less than the present bailouts, while instilling personal responsibility that's needed.