The National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions opened its annual Congressional Caucus in Washington today, but unlike last year’s questions about who would triumph in the presidential election, this year’s caucus opened amid a divisive political climate for credit unions as they begin lobbying legislators on a variety of CU-related issues.

According to political analyst Mark Halperin, who delivered a keynote address, most Americans don’t believe their children and grandchildren will have more economic opportunities than them. And thanks to years of persistent 2 percent GDP growth, rising college costs, disappearing manufacturing jobs, the 2008 financial crisis and stagnant household incomes, many Americans across the country are worried about trade, immigration and endless wars. On top of that, he said, there is a divide between how “elites” and “the masses” think.

“People who live in New York and Washington D.C., they’re nice people, but they don’t tell the whole story,” he said.

Halperin said he considers himself an old-fashioned, non-partisan journalist. “I’ve been attacked by both the left and the right,” he quipped.

He argued that President Barack Obama’s stimulus bill and auto bailout had an obviously positive effect on the economy, but that the benefits of the Dodd-Frank Act and Affordable Care Act were more of a “mystery.” Most Americans didn’t feel like the former president understood their economic environment, Halperin said. Although Obama campaigned on being non-partisan, he left the White House as more polarizing figure than his last two predecessors.

During Donald Trump’s presidency, Halperin said, he and other journalists have to cover two things: The “reality TV show” and the reality undergirding tweets and outrageous behavior. “The reality show continues,” Halperin said. “You hear a lot more about the president’s tweets and the investigations than you do about the reality: Housing prices, regulation of financial services.”

The reality show then cuts into an already short legislative calendar – a fact emphasized in remarks from NAFCU President and CEO Dan Berger.

NAFCU President and CEO Dan Berger addresses the crowd during the trade association's 2017 Congressional Caucus in Washington.
NAFCU President and CEO Dan Berger, seen here during the trade association's 2017 Congressional Caucus in Washington. Photo by Kevin Dietsch

“Every time something occurs—natural disasters, tweeting and healthcare—the calendar gets compressed,” said Berger. “If you think healthcare reform was difficult, trying to get tax reform will be even more difficult.”

But not all lawmakers see the new administration’s erratic nature as an omen for gridlock.

Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-NC) told the crowd “I hear a lot of trepidation about what we can achieve legislatively this fall.” And McHenry said he believes any standard notion of predictability with President Trump will turn out to be wrong. “The president continues to throw curve balls and keep things interesting, but that’s not just his tweets. That’s his actions and instincts.” But McHenry sees this as an opportunity to have agreements about larger issues around spending, appropriations process and continuity of government.

According to Halperin, Trump’s debt ceiling deal with democrats was the “good Trump,” the dealmaker and centrist, revealing himself. “I believe the president would like to make more deals with democrats,” Halperin said. “It gets great coverage, and the press loves bipartisan deals.”

For more from this year's caucus, click here.