by: Ryan Donovan, SVP Legislative Affairs, Credit Union National Association
Some in the credit union system may have felt frustrated when reading headlines this week that a vote on the credit union small business jobs bill is not imminent. It would not have been unreasonable to expect a quick vote on the bill after hearing the Senate Majority Leader say in March, “the time has come for Democrats and Republicans to decide where they stand with America’s credit unions.” But, that’s not always the way these things work here in Washington. No doubt — securing the promise of a vote this year clears a huge obstacle, but it is not the last challenge we face as we work to enact this legislation.
The next challenge we face in getting a vote is one all legislation in the Senate faces (and over which we have little control): finding the time on the Senate floor for this issue to be debated. Depending on how it is brought to the floor – as an amendment to a pending bill, as part of a larger piece of legislation, or as a standalone measure – consideration of this legislation could take several days. That’s precious time considering the Senate will only be in session a handful of weeks before this fall’s elections.
The list of issues and bills competing for floor time is long – and it has been made even longer by the fact that for much of the 112th Congress, the Senate has had a difficult time getting much passed. As a result, the Senate now has a backlog of measures that it needs to get done or that leadership would like to get done.
Some issues which were priorities at the beginning of the year now simmer on the back burner. One example of this is the cybersecurity bill. This bill was on everyone’s list of items to be considered in the first quarter of the year. Heading into the first week in May, it’s still yet to be considered, repeatedly placed on the back burner in favor of other legislation. Now, it competes with a number of measures including the student lending bill, Export-Import Bank reauthorization, National Flood Insurance Program reauthorization, the transportation bill, the budget resolution, and a small business tax bill.
Add the list of things that needs to get done by the end of the year –tax extenders, resolving the Bush-era tax cuts, the budget cuts required by the sequestration process, and the annual appropriations bills – and it becomes clearer why a vote on this bill hasn’t been scheduled yet. When the Majority Leader says we’re going to vote on the credit union bill, it becomes one more thing on the list.
The competition for floor time isn’t our only challenge. Complicating matters is the fact that this is an election year. Even though Congress will be considering a number of necessary measures this summer, many of the votes it will cast will be for political messaging. A vote on the credit union small business jobs bill is the antithesis of a messaging vote – it does nothing to help one political party over another, but it may be a difficult vote for certain Senators. With chamber control in jeopardy and several Senators facing very competitive reelection battles, it is not unreasonable for those who control the floor to give lower priority to legislation that doesn’t complement the broader partisan political agenda and which complicates individual races.
The sad reality is that there should be nothing controversial about a bill that would make more credit available to America’s small businesses and help create 140,000 new jobs in the first year at no cost to taxpayers. But the banks that abandoned small businesses during the financial crisis want to stick it to small business – and to credit unions – again by blocking this bill.
Overcoming that controversy and helping Members of Congress see this as a small business issue and not a Hobson’s choice of angering a friend, is key to overcoming this challenge. This is why it’s critical that Congress continues to hear from small business owners on this issue, and why we continue to add to our coalition of small business organizations in support of our bill.
Finally, there is this not-so-little issue of actually winning the votes. What’s certain – it will take the votes of 60 Senators to pass this bill. What’s uncertain (and perplexing), is exactly how the vote will be structured. If the bill moves as a standalone, the legislation will not face just one 60-vote threshold vote, but a gauntlet of 60-vote threshold votes. Many of these will be procedural votes, and it is quite possible that some of our Republican allies may not be with us on procedural votes, notwithstanding their support for the underlying bill.
That is why it is important for us create a process is inclusive. That is: we must be open combining the credit union small business jobs bill with regulatory relief legislation for community banks. Everyone wins under this scenario. Nevertheless, the banks balk at this suggestion. They would rather see their bill burn down Pennsylvania Avenue than see experienced and well capitalized credit unions doing more to serve their small business-owning members. So, we are headed to a vote banks don’t want and won’t like.
Any time you take an issue to a vote in Congress, it is not enough just to think you have the votes; it is critical to have confidence in your count. Before any vote takes place, we will want to have a high degree of confidence that we have enough support to prevail. That’s why our efforts over the last several weeks have been so important, and why it is just as important that we keep the momentum going into the next several weeks. We have more confidence in the level of support today than we did two months ago, and we continue to build support every day.
As we get closer to the finish line, we’re going to have good days and bad, breakthroughs and setbacks. This week’s articles suggesting the possibility of delay could be viewed as a setback, but in reality, the schedule in the Senate is always very fluid, and often even those in charge have limited control over that process. Winning the vote this Congress has always been our #1 priority, not when the vote takes place.
Nothing has changed the fact that the vote is coming and the burden is on us to make sure we win it for our small business-owning members.