It’s almost impossible to forecast now specific legislative activity that might be important to credit unions the rest of the year. On the other hand, Congress has been somewhat predictable in recent years.
If past performance is any indicator of the future, the safe bet is on Congress doing little to either benefit or hurt credit unions—absent some sort of crisis or unforeseen event.
If anything, the newly installed Republican-controlled Congress is more interested in reducing the regulatory burden on all sectors than adding new burdens. Whether Congress can remove barriers for credit unions in any meaningful way remains to be seen and is, in part, up to the credit union system.
As we prepare a legislative agenda aimed at removing barriers, we ask three questions:
1. What do credit unions need;
2. What can they support; and
3. What can Congress accomplish?
It’s important to look at these three questions together. Obviously, our legislative agenda shouldn’t include items or initiatives credit unions do not need.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that “want” and “need” are different animals. Congress—especially in a period of gridlock—isn’t interested in what groups or industries want. They need to know what we need.
So, whatever we seek from Congress, we must clearly and convincingly demonstrate that the system needs it.
The second question isn’t as easily answered as the first, but it’s more critical: What can we demonstrate support for?
The credit union system enjoys a grassroots potential that is almost unmatchable. Not only do we have credit union advocates in every congressional district, we’re developing the means to activate the nation’s 102 million credit union memberships.
And guess what? The folks in Congress know it, and they have an expectation that we will use it. Our numbers and potential are meaningless if we don’t have the capacity and the willingness to engage members on behalf of our strategy.
We have found success in the past on Capitol Hill when policies and initiatives have affected a high percentage of credit unions and members. When the initiatives haven’t, we have faltered.
This could lead one to suggest that we should aim, therefore, for the items that benefit the most credit unions and members—and that would be partially correct.
But a proposal that would affect the vast majority of members and credit unions isn’t by itself a strong indicator of its success.
We also need to consider the third question: What can Congress deliver? That question often is overlooked, but it’s absolutely essential. If dysfunction and gridlock cripple Congress, the legislature can hardly be expected to enact the major reforms or enhancements many credit unions seek.