WASHINGTON — Credit union access to supplemental capital is going to be the No. 1 priority for CUNA in 2011.

"Our top legislative priority is going to be supplemental capital and capital reform," CUNA CEO Bill Cheney told CU Journal. "This is something we have been working on for a long time. The timing wasn't really right until now."

Among the signs that supplemental capital could gain traction in 2011:

• U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), who is expected to ascend to the chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee, and U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), who is expected to become the new chair of the House Banking Committee, have both indicated an interest in adding capital reform for financial institutions to their respective committees' agendas.

• A host of federal agencies, including NCUA, Treasury and others, have come out in support of some sort of alternative capital and/or capital reform for credit unions.

Still, with gridlock expected to continue in Congress, supplemental capital and capital reform are hardly "gimmes" in the soon-to-be 112th Congress.

Other big legislative and regulatory priorities for CUNA in 2011 include:

• Reaching out to 112th Congress: in addition to a number of brand new members of Congress, every single committee in the House is going to have a new chair now that the Republicans have regained the majority. "Overall, and this is not a criticism of anybody, but we are going to be in a better position in some cases" as a result of the change in leadership in the House, Cheney told Credit Union Journal. "There is going to be less appetite for increasing the regulatory burden, at least in the House."

• Member Business Lending: though credit unions failed in pushing through their top priority in 2010, lifting the cap on MBLs, it will remain a priority, just not THE priority. "I'm sorry we didn't get this done already," Cheney said, but CUNA will continue to work "behind the scenes" on MBL reform.

• CU Tax Exemption: it's the proverbial cat that keeps darkening credit unions' collective doorstep. Although no lawmaker or Obama administration official has specifically brought up the CU tax exemption, as the country continues to struggle to bring a massive deficit under control, the call has gone out to reevaluate the various tax exemptions that exist and that Congress will have to "put everything on the table." Cheney stressed there's no immediate threat to the CU tax exemption, but CUNA is keeping a close eye on this issue.

• Corporate Restructuring: with the comment period on NCUA's proposed amendments to the corporate rule closing at the end of January, CUNA is very concerned about the front-loading of assessments, as well as other issues related to resolving the corporate credit union crisis.

• NCUA Budget: when NCUA announced it would be hiking its budget for the third consecutive year, a hue and cry went out in credit union land, and CUNA is responding by urging NCUA to "sharpen its pencils" and take a very careful look at that budget.

• Interchange: calling this a "huge" issue, Cheney said CUNA already has meetings scheduled with the Fed to lobby for credit unions on this. "The Fed is in a difficult, if not impossible, position," he commented. "But 12 cents [per transaction] doesn't cover your cost if you're Bank of America, much less a small credit union."

• Grassroots: CUNA is working with the state league to strengthen credit unions' already formidable grassroots lobbying power. "As former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil once said, all politics is local," Cheney quoted. "As the recent elections have shown, we need to be attuned to what people are thinking back home."

• Consumer outreach: CUNA is rolling out a consumer website to reach out to and educate consumers.

• Board education: as previously reported by Credit Union Journal, the trade association has created a financial literacy program for CU boards of directors to help credit unions comply with NCUA's new board financial literacy requirements.

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