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The Speeches, the Unspeeches, and Some Words to Remember

What has been most amazing about all of the snow in Washington, D.C. in recent weeks hasn't been the record depths of the white stuff, but the fact that any snow could accumulate at all given all the local hot air.

And the snowblowers will be out in force this week when CUNA hosts its annual Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) at the Washington Convention Center and pundits and politicians parade to pontificate at the podium.

The pundits will elicit the laughs. The military band will evoke the goosebumps. And the speeches will get the spotlight. But it will be in the whispers among audience members and chatter among small groups in the hallways where we will really hear what's on the minds of CU leaders. Call them the "unspeeches."

Here are some cases in point:

The Speech: Whether it's CUNA CEO Dan Mica or a member of the trade group's board (or both), someone will cite a laundry list of all that CUNA has achieved for its member credit unions since the previous GAC was adjourned, especially in Washington.

The UnSpeech: Credit unions have been priming the political pump with PAC money for more than a decade. And now when they're seeking relief from the member business lending cap - and at a time when Congress is even eager to show it's creating jobs and getting credit into the market - the pump proves to be dry. Why? What's all that money getting us?

The Speech: Some (every) member of Congress will give some version of the same remarks with these key phrases. Government must get smaller. Lower taxes. Need bipartisanship. Other party is evil. More benefits. Reduce deficit. Family values. Opposed to terrorism. Change. Christian. CUs are good and you've got a friend in Congress.

The UnSpeech: Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Yada, yada, yada. Blah. Blah. Blah, blah.

The Speech: One or more members of the NCUA board will talk in general terms about the proposed corporate regulation, how open the agency is to feedback, why the new rules are necessary, and why it's important to look ahead rather than focus on the past.

The UnSpeech: OK, so where was the agency when many of the corporates were making bad bets? What happened with the examiners NCUA had on-site at the two corporates now in conservatorship? What's the tab for the bailout going to be in 2010, so we can start making plans? People who don't want to look back usually have something they want forgotten, and if we don't have 20/20 hindsight how will we ever even have 20/40 foresight?

The Speech: A pundit will offer funny anecdotes and pithy observations for 45 minutes. The same funny anecdotes and pithy observations he gave to another group the week prior, and will give to yet another convention next week.

The UnSpeech: I wish I had that job. How much do you think that guy got paid? Bet he's not paying a special assessment.

And so it will go. It's become something of a tradition in recent years to note in this space that GAC is the largest gathering of credit unions each year, and yet the real challenges facing credit unions are not inside Washington. Such is the case again in 2010. Perhaps someone will mention it in a speech.

• Don't know what the bankers have planned for for this week while credit unions are in town, but I wouldn't rule out some effort to remind Congress that certain credit unions are now eligible for TARP funding (i.e., tax money), even though CUs remain tax-exempt. That issue is a potentially thorny one for credit unions, frankly. But it's a thorn that cuts both ways, as more than 1,800 subchapter S banks (i.e. no corporate income tax) can (and do) also belly up to the federal trough for TARP money.

• Speaking of the corporates, the ongoing condition, future costs and future shape of credit unions' credit unions will justifiably deserve attention at GAC. Many CEOs and board members, especially at NCUA's Town Halls, have expressed anger and frustration, with some vowing to never again do business with a corporate CU.

But Tom Dorety, the president of Suncoast Schools FCU in Tampa, reminded that cooler heads must prevail in remarks during the Town Hall in Orlando recently. Dorety recalled the origins of corporate CUs, including in his own state when the now defunct Barnett Bank "threw us out and forced us to create our own ATM network,and turn elsewhere for some correspondent services. There was a cost for us doing that, and it was significant, and mostly it was a cost over lack of control over our future.

"We have a corporate network that has serious flaws, and we've exposed those, and (NCUA has) done what (its) done. I appreciate that some say they are never going to go to their board of directors for another dime to recapitalize the corporate system. That is all well and good, but that is going to cost us in going elsewhere, including control. I hope that (NCUA) will continue to allow us to have a cooperative resolution, and will have a proper business model that works and doesn't force us to go elsewhere."

Frank J. Diekmann is publisher of Credit Union Journal and can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.

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