More than 120 credit union advocates from around the Commonwealth converged in Washington Wednesday for the League’s annual Congressional Luncheon.
Most of Virginia’s delegation members attended the event, although two attendees … Reps. Bobby Scott (D-3) and Jim Moran (D-8) … had to leave before they could make remarks. Neither Sen. Tim Kaine nor Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-9) attended; neither did Rep. Robert Hurt (R-5), although Hurt arranged to leave a committee meeting for a few minutes and talk with constituents for 20 minutes before the luncheon.
Many of the comments made by the lawmakers at the event centered on the upcoming prospect of sequestration and the nation’s debt. They all found common ground in praising credit unions for their work on behalf of their members and communities.
Sen. Warner began his comments by acknowledging upfront that “I’ve managed to dodge and weave” on your ongoing campaign to raise the cap on member business lending. “I probably will continue to do so,” he admitted, adding, “I’ll do the same when bankers go after your tax exemption.”
He called the sequester “stupid beyond belief,” explaining it will cost taxpayers money as the federal government incurs penalties for breaking contracts and loses volume discounts. He repeated his past challenge to voters that if Congress cannot find a solution to the problem “we should all be fired.”
On issues more closely related to credit unions, Warner said that he’s led an effort to keep Basel changes aimed at big banks from being applied to small banks and credit unions. When it comes to reforming the Fannie and Freddie Macs, he said it doesn’t make sense to have the government guarantee 95% of all loans. The challenge is to make a transition so that small institutions still have access to the markets. He also referred to the legislation to do away with required annual privacy notices mailed to members. He said there should be flexibility in requiring privacy notification.
He thanked credit unions for re-investing in their communities. “I really value what you do,” he said.
Next up was Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11), who for the third time has signed on to our member business lending legislation. At the luncheon, he also promised to sign up again for the supplemental capital bill. “I’m proud to be the only Virginian to support the MBL bill,” Connolly averred to applause. He cited credit unions as the only financial institutions stepping up to the plate after the economy collapsed. Why wouldn’t we want to give credit unions the opportunity to expand their ability to help small businesses, he asked rhetorically. “I think your legislation is good for the economy.”
Rep. Rob Wittman (R-1) said he would continue to talk to the new chairman of House Financial Services, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, about credit union issues. He said that allowing access to capital is critical, especially in today’s climate. He also voiced support for regulatory relief, noting that past legislation such as the Patriot Act and Sarbanes-Oxley have added to the costs of doing business for credit unions. Congress should make sure that the regulatory framework does not create unnecessary expenses, he said. He encouraged credit unions to continue the conversation on legislative issues and assured them that he valued credit unions’ commitment to their members. “I tell folks, if you’re not a member, you should be!”
Despite the behind the scenes scrambling due to the looming Friday sequestration deadline, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor popped into the luncheon. “You’re about community,” he told the attendees. He recalled the origin of credit unions, saying “You filled a void where service didn’t exist for working people.” He said Congress should take a cue from credit unions: “we’re here to serve the people.” He acknowledged that credit unions hear the pain from members from the lingering economic drag, and assured the audience that Congress is trying to help, adding “We have to do a better job.” Closer to home, he said Congress is interested in providing regulatory relief. He half-joked that with all the new rules from Dodd-Frank alone, “No wonder some credit unions can’t come to Washington for three days” to attend the Credit Union National Association’s governmental affairs conference. Cantor concluded: “We need to put sense back into these regulations.” (Rep. Cantor had addressed the CUNA conference earlier in the day).
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-4) praised credit unions for “doing a great job” and being “the last bastion where people know your name.” He gave his perspective on the upcoming sequestration, citing concern about military spending, especially since it already has been cut. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, he said that panel will not go home on Thursday night as the other lawmakers return to their districts. Instead, the committee will look at ways of mitigating the effects of sequestration. Forbes said the federal government should look to credit unions as models in financial stewardship, noting that credit unions tell their members to ask themselves what they need, not want, and to make sure they can honor their obligations.
Rep. Scott Rigell (R-2) blamed gerrymandered Congressional districts for the current state of gridlock in Congress. Because of skewed districts, members of either party “aren’t rewarded for finding common ground. They’re punished.” He said lawmakers have to do what’s best for the country, not what is best for a political career. Rigell said one of his goals is to elevate civility in Washington as “the glue that holds us together as Americans. We need to throttle back.” He added that people shouldn’t question the motives of those who disagree with them. He told the credit union members, “Thank you for keeping our economy going.”
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-6) reminded attendees that in his new post as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he oversees bankruptcy legislation, as well as the immigration discussion that is making the news nowadays. He exclaimed support for the credit union tax exemption because credit unions are different than the for-profit financial institutions. He said he knows that member business lending legislation is high on the CU agenda, and he pledged to continue working with credit unions to see if they can make more business loans while recognizing the limitations due to the differences that earn the tax exemption. He also expressed support for regulatory relief. “We’ve gone way too far in having bureaucracies make decisions that you should make,” he said.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-11) had talked to luncheon attendees about the national debt long before it became a popular topic. He continued that discussion, saying “our country is in trouble. We’re broke!” He also cited public fatigue as Congress lurches from crisis to crisis. On a happier note, he cited his longtime membership in Wright Pattman and concluded “I appreciate the credit unions!”
The luncheon was emceed for the final time by Dewey Reynolds, who is stepping down as chairman of the League’s Governmental Affairs Committee. League President Rick Pillow thanked credit unions for their advocacy commitment. While the League works hard at representing credit unions in Richmond and Washington day in and out, Pillow pointed out, “We can’t get anything done without you!”