WASHINGTON—With control of the Senate changing hands in 2015, credit unions may have some legislative opportunities as the 113th Congress winds down, as well as what might prove to be an even better legislative environment for CUs in the 114th Congress.
"If history is instructive on this, when there's been changes in control of Congress there has been a flurry of last-minute legislative activity, so I think that gives us some hope that on smaller matters there may be some opportunities for movement [during the upcoming lame-duck session]," said Ryan Donovan, CUNA SVP of legislative affairs. Donovan cited bills on privacy notifications, interest on lawyers' trust accounts and allowing privately insured credit unions to join the Federal Home Loan Bank as areas where "we continue to see opportunities to move those issues between now and the end of the year."
While credit union-friendly candidates Mark Udall and Kay Hagan lost a pair of high profile Senate races, they will still be coming back for the lame-duck session, and Katie Marisic, VP of political affairs at NAFCU said that those two could help push forward issues important to credit unions before the next Congress convenes.
Despite chalking up a few big losses in some of the races credit unions were actively involved in, the incoming 114th Congress, with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate for the first time since 2006, looks to be pretty credit union-friendly, observers suggested.
"The results are overwhelmingly positive for us, despite a few very hard-fought losses," said Jim Nussle, president and CEO of CUNA.
The 114th Congress
With a legislative majority interested the potential for regulatory reform and scaling back Dodd-Frank and the CFPB, could the 114th Congress be a better legislative environment for credit unions?
"Better is a relative term," reminded John McKechnie, a former NCUA staffer who is now a partner at D.C.-based consulting firm Total Spectrum. "Republicans are more eager to work with credit unions on regulatory relief initiatives, [but] Republicans are still very conflicted about the credit union-versus-bank issue. So credit unions are going to have to work very hard to make sure we get our points across to the Republican majority and don't simply allow Republicans to say that our agenda is subject to the approval of the banking industry."
CUNA's Donovan said that GOP leaders "have an incentive to show the country that the Republican majority in both chambers can govern," though he added the positive note that most credit union issues aren't strictly partisan.
"If the gears of Congress are moving productively, that gives us an opportunity on issues like regulatory relief," he said.
NAFCU's Marisic concurred.
"We're optimistically hopeful that there will be some technical fixes to Dodd-Frank and the opportunity for regulatory relief for credit unions." She noted that some legislation has already passed out of the Republican-controlled house but stalled in the Senate, and said that the change in power could be what's needed to propel some of those issues forward.
Some of that optimism is the result of victories for West Virginia's Shelley Moore Capito and Michigan's Gary Peters, both of whom are credit union-friendly legislators who won elections moving them from the House to the Senate. Both representatives "have a strong understanding of these issues, so we think it will be beneficial having them in the Senate," said Marisic.
With Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) expected to chair the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee chaired for now by U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), McKechnie suggested the two "will presumably find more to agree on than occurred in the past between a Democratic Senate and a Republican House. They may try, for instance, to reform Dodd-Frank. They may try housing finance reform. Those initiatives may pass the committees and may even pass the floor of both chambers, but the reality is that the president still has veto power."
That conflict between a Republican legislature and a Democratic president could also come up next year when President Obama is set to nominate a new member of the NCUA Board, said CUNA's Donovan.
The Election After The Election
Many pundits have pointed to 2016 as a crucial election not only because voters will choose a new president, but because Republican senators elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 will be up for reelection. While the GOP padded its numbers last night to insulate itself against potential losses in 2016, the next election will soon take up much of the oxygen in the political atmosphere. Some mainstream media outlets have already begun prognosticating what these midterm results might mean for 2016.
Donovan said that the new Congress "should be favorable to a regulatory relief agenda," but added that "the window of opportunity for them to operate is going to be relatively small, because the 2016 elections are now on the horizon."
Both Marisic and McKechnie stressed that CU trade groups will have to ignore the next election for the time being and focus on trying to get results with the new Congress.
"For us it is the same strategy," said Marisic. "Our issues are very important to our members and to us, and we need to make sure Congress continues to be educated on that. We'll keep focusing on the issues that affect our membership and keep working to try to get some movement on those."
"It's a matter of being willing to speak up on the issues that are important to us," reminded McKechnie, "being very focused on the issues that are important to credit union members and cultivating the kind of relationships that can get results on the Hill. That applies whether it's a Democratic or a Republican majority."