by: Hon. Daniel A. Mica, Principal, The DMA Group
Greetings and salutations. Please allow me a moment to tell you a story that illuminates a point I have made for years about the legislative process. The story takes place just earlier this week as Congress was concluding a so-called bi-partisan deal on extending the payroll tax reduction and goes like this.
It’s mid-afternoon and I receive an urgent call from a friend asking that I make a personal call to a congressman on a very specific provision in a bill. My friend explains that the provision could cost millions of dollars and have an impact on untold numbers of people. Recognizing a friend in need, I make the call. Speaking with the congressman directly he tells me that he is 100% in full support of what we want to get done. As soon as I hang up, the phone rings again and a Hill staffer informs me that the bill in question has passed beyond the point in the legislative process allowing for changes or adjustments to the provision in question. Thinking to myself how disappointing it is that even with a congressman to champion the cause and some inside help to bring attention to the issue, the case was closed. While delivering the bad news to my friend it is clear to me that if things had not been left until the last minute, the result could have been totally different.
A day later and millions lost, the point is driven home that if you wait until the last minute and don’t do your homework even your best supporters cannot help. In this case, my friend’s group had clearly not laid the proper groundwork for the issue at hand and calling in an expert at such a late stage was akin to tossing up a “Hail Mary” with five seconds left to play. As we saw this past Superbowl Sunday, this is not a good strategy for victory.
As an executive leader in the credit union movement, I know first hand that you have many jobs to juggle. When prioritizing your strategies for 2012, deciding where to put “Engaging Congress during an election year” feels like a no-brainer. Put it on the back burner until the cards have been dealt and focus on tasks that need immediate attention. Believe me, even as a former Member of Congress, I understand this thought process. NOTE: I wholeheartedly advise against making this critical error in judgement and will continue to beat the drum and remind my credit union colleagues of the importance of engaging their members of Congress. Doing so will help will help us all avoid being in the position that my friend encountered just this week.
Forecasters and pollsters of all shapes and sizes will try to predict the outcome of the upcoming elections. Economists and analysts will try equally hard to predict the effect the elections will have on various industries. Personally, I will leave these rolls of the dice to the gamblers and pundits. That being said, and even without a crystal ball, I can predict this; “What you see is what you get.” Without broad sweeping changes in the rules and parliamentary process that govern the legislative process, Congress will continue to operate exactly the same as it does today regardless of which party is in control. (It is important for me to note that I spent 20 years of my life in Congress on Capitol Hill and I truly love the institution. What I learned during that time and since is that the institution is in need of some major changes.)
Even if the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives it would be highly unlikely they would gain enough of a majority to move legislation at will. Just as the Republicans have to deal with various factions within their party, so too would the Democrats. In the Senate, a Republican majority is unlikely to have the necessary 60 vote super-majority often needed to move a bill, let alone the two-thirds majority for a veto-override in order to freely pass legislation. As has always been the case, it is easier to stop legislation than to pass legislation.
This may seem too much like a defeatist point of view. To the contrary, it means we do not have to wait until after the elections cultivate political allies. Titles will change, names will change, chairmanships may switch yet the net result will have little effect on the day-to-day legislative process. Now is the time to lay the groundwork for building support, possible consensus and legislative success.
Credit unions should stay focused on building support on both sides of the aisle. Every credit union in America has Republican and Democrat board members, staff and members-at-large. Everyone should be encouraged to get involved now the upcoming elections and continue to push for the needs and concerns of the credit union movement. Working with the leagues, we should double down and not let up on their calls, visits, and contacts in the coming year. There are even opportunities to come to Washington and support efforts like CUNA’s “Hike the Hill”. There is absolutely no time in the election cycle when a politician is more likely to listen and respond than in the months and weeks prior to the polls opening.
While your 2012 agenda continues to fill up, and you manage to keep all the balls in the air, I urge you to keep credit union legislative, regulatory and political initiatives high on your priority list. Take action now, before the election knowing that no matter which candidate receives the most votes, the credit unions will be the ultimate victors if legislators are constantly and properly informed.
We don’t want to wake up in 2013 realizing the clock is winding down and we need a “Hail Mary” to win the game.
Dan Mica, former head of the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), established The DMA Group as a means to combine a myriad of experience into a one-stop consultancy. Elected in 1978 to represent Florida’s 11th district in the U.S. House of Representatives, Dan Mica served five terms before beginning what would become more than two decades of work in the world of non-profits and association management.
The DMA Group is a full-service consulting firm, providing the highest level of integrity and service through established practices and decades of experience. www.dmagroupdc.com