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Rep. Maxine Waters, D-CA (Los Angeles)

updated 12/13/13 04:03 PM
This Time, Congress Treats Differently
The Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit—part of the House Financial Services Committee—met again on Dec. 4 to review legislation aimed at providing regulatory relief for credit unions and community banks.

The meeting was the fourth time this committee has met specifically about credit unions in 2013, but this gathering was different. "It shows the legislative process is actually moving for credit unions, albeit a very slow pace," said Jeremy Empol, vice president of federal government affairs for the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues.

Two themes were evident at this hearing. "First, Congress wants community banks and credit unions to get along; and second, both sides of the political aisle want to clear the 'red tape' for community lenders," Empol said. "The problem is process and procedure."

This hearing was the second in a matter of weeks on non-controversial regulatory relief bills (the previous being the extension of insurance fund coverage for Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts, or IOLTAs). It was also an investigative one in which only two witnesses testified: One from the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), and the other from the American Bankers Association (ABA).

The legislation under consideration is H.R. 3584, which would allow privately-insured credit unions access to the Federal Home Loan Banks, and H.R. 2672, which would let counties petition the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) over rural-county designation.

Also, the subcommittee chair and ranking member released a discussion draft of a bill that would ask all financial regulatory bodies, including the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), to coordinate and review before issuing new regulations, with the intention of limiting duplication of unnecessary burdens. The ABA raised concerns about anything that gave credit unions some form of relief.

So What Was Different This Time?
It was clear among both political parties that there is support for credit unions and community banks. What was even more positive for credit unions was that members of Congress struggled with the definition of community and regional banks. However, what a "credit union" is, and its mission, was very obvious.

"Since this was a subcommittee meeting, it is very rare for non-committee members to attend," Empol said. "While in fact several did, the most significant was the attendance of Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who is the senior democrat on the full committee."

After sitting through the entire meeting, Waters gave a closing statement that included the announcement of a package that she and the full committee chairman—Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX)—are working on for community lenders.

"While the answers we received were not 100 percent clear, what was clear is that there are those who are willing to take a leadership role in ensuring credit unions have the opportunity to succeed," Empol added.

One question that remains: When will this package materialize? The committee is well aware that significant credit union enhancements have not passed since 1998. Congress is scheduled to adjourn for 2013 on Dec. 13, but will reconvene Jan. 7.

"Seven weeks later, CUNA will hold its Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC), where all of this will be at the forefront of our agenda," Empol said.

Click here to view the hearing.

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