By. Mark Wolff, CUNA
This year, the 113th Congress will have over 80 new House members, with an estimated one-third of the House having two years of experience or less. This marks the beginning of a pivotal period when the influence and involvement of credit union leaders in governmental affairs will play a major role in the education of these newcomers as well as the shape of future legislation that will affect credit unions.
With this in mind, the 2013 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference, taking place February 24-28, in Washington D.C., has made preserving credit unions’ tax status the top priority. This conference marks an important opportunity to ensure Congress understands the public policy benefits behind credit unions’ federal tax exemption.
CUNA’s Chairman, Mike Mercer, makes this point about why the credit union model resonates, especially in the current environment in Washington: “We know a dominant theme for policy makers will be helping the nation’s middle class. Who does that better than credit unions? Our members save billions a year using credit unions rather than banks. And when it comes to consumer satisfaction and trust, credit unions are in a class by themselves.”
These are defining characteristics that members of Congress need to know about credit unions—especially in a year when tax reform is high on the agenda, notes Mercer, who is also CEO of Georgia Credit Union Affiliates. “Our tax status is causal to our ability as not-for-profit cooperatives to deliver affordable financial service to 95 million hardworking Americans.
The GAC attendees will also be advocating to reduce the regulatory burden and enhance the credit union charter. “If we do not set the agenda and establish our priorities on Capitol Hill, our opponents in the commercial banking industry will step in and do it for us,” Mercer explains. “The education process with legislators begins in Washington at the GAC.”
The conference also will bring before credit unions some of Congress’ most influential members, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), ranking committee member Maxine Waters (D-CA), newly elected Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who was just named to the Senate Banking Committee, and the chief sponsors of the credit union member business lending and supplemental capital bills, introduced just days ago: Reps. Ed Royce, R-CA, (MBL), and Peter King. NY. and Brad Sherman, D-CA (capital reform).
They are part of a powerful, bipartisan lineup of congressional and regulatory speakers who view the GAC as an opportunity to address the credit union community’s largest national gathering. However, the attendance at the GAC transcends the high-powered programming. This is an opportunity—4,000 strong—for credit union leaders when making their GAC Hill visits to educate and enlighten members of Congress about the value of credit unions when making Capitol Hill visits.
CUNA President and CEO Bill Cheney explains that when so many today are disillusioned with banks, it creates an enormous opening for credit unions. “If we succeed in removing regulatory barriers, elevating consumer awareness, and fostering service excellence through collaboration,” said Cheney, “many more people will recognize what our members already know so well. People across this nation will choose credit unions as their best financial partner. The GAC is where we state our case and tell our story to our nation’s lawmakers.”