May 29, 2012
Shortly after the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) in Washington, D.C., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised that S. 2231, the credit union member business lending (MBL), bill would receive a vote on the Senate floor.
Since then, credit union advocates around the country have been engaged in a far-reaching campaign for support of the bill, known as the Credit Union Small Business Jobs Act. Oregon and Washington credit unions alone have produced more than 7000 contacts to their respective senators, said Jennifer Wagner, vice president of legislative advocacy for the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA), “and those are just the numbers we can track.”
Additionally, since the GAC, a representative from CUNA, a league or association, or an individual credit union has met with every U.S. Senate office. CUNA has also dedicated unbudgeted resources to this endeavor, including the retention of three additional lobbying firms with critical relationships with key Senators, and radio ads have run in 11 states urging Senators to vote for the legislation. Newspaper advertisements have run in the Seattle Times, in Capitol Hill newspapers and in the national edition of the New York Times, and earned media hits have run across the country, in print, on the radio and on television.
But for all the credit union advocacy this issue has spurred, the banking industry has fought equally hard against it.
“The vitriolic nature of the bank rhetoric has intensified ever since Majority Leader Reid announced his intention to hold a vote on the Credit Union Small Business Jobs Act,” CUNA President and CEO Bill Cheney wrote in an email this morning. “Quite simply, the banks have come unglued, and they’ve run out of arguments. In one of their last attacks on the bill, they resorted to calling the bill a “scam.” Many on Capitol Hill believe the banks have crossed the line in their opposition to this legislation. Nevertheless, we have responded to the misleading and blatantly false propaganda in a firm and accurate manner through email communications to House and Senate Legislative Directors and Financial Services Legislative Assistants, and through mail drops on Capitol Hill.”
Today, S. 2231 remains on the Senate calendar, meaning it could be called to the floor at any time. The slow march of politics can make it appear that advocacy efforts have stagnated, but Wagner said that the current movement is primarily taking place behind the scenes.
“The work going on now is the type of inside baseball that includes counting votes, discussing whether the bill will move as a stand-alone bill or in a package, dealing with the politics that surround passing legislation in an election year and negotiating the timing in relation to other priority bills on the Senate calendar,” Wagner said. “For us, this is the frustrating part, because it can appear we are stalled. Rest assured, there is work being done every day to ensure our best chances of winning this vote, and Senator Reid’s promise of a vote has not changed.”
CUNA confirms Wagner’s assertion that steady but subtle progress continues to be made. CUNA’s small business coalition has grown to now boast more than 30 different groups that have signed on in support of the MBL bill.
According to Cheney, “several organizations, including the National Cooperative Business Association and the National Small Business Association, have sent action alerts to their members. The National Association of Realtors® has placed the MBL bill at the top of their talking points during their recent fly-in. The Consumer Federation of America and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce have joined the debate on our side. And a coalition of conservative groups with the ear of Republican lawmakers recently wrote Congress in support of the legislation. While every Senator is different, many are being persuaded by the emphasis that our coalition partners are giving this issue. There’s no doubt about it: this is making a difference.”
Locally, Wagner said that the NWCUA is continuing to work with Oregon and Washington’s senators and their staffs, sharing relevant articles, statistics and testimonials in steady support of S. 2231. She said that the Association is also continuing “to respond to banker propaganda and mistruths when they find their way to our delegation.”
“We are closer than we’ve ever been on the MBL issue, and we can’t afford to give up,” Wagner said. “We will continue to keep this issue front and center with our Senators, sharing local stories that highlight the continuous demand for capital by our small businesses—demand that is not being met—and the important role credit unions can play in meeting that need.”
Cheney outlined some of the less obvious challenges, including political and procedural roadblocks, that the legislation faces during what all involved hope is the stretch run.
“Everything that is considered in the Senate these days requires 60 votes to pass,” Cheney wrote. “But, as it stands now, if this bill was brought to the floor, we would not just face one 60-vote threshold vote, but a gauntlet of procedural votes, and winning all of these with 60 votes would be extremely difficult. We’re engaging with Senators on both sides of the aisle to try to produce the most favorable procedure for considering this legislation, including possibly the development of a package of legislation that might be more palatable to a broader segment of the Senate. Another challenge is the calendar: there’s not much time before Congress adjourns for the year, and the list of things they need to do is long. The more we can do to demonstrate that we have the votes to win, the greater the likelihood that we will see this legislation move one way or another.”
“Make no mistake about it: we’ve won the public policy argument on this bill,” Cheney continued. “Unfortunately, that’s not enough these days. We have work to do on the politics of the issue and we do not have much time. I’m confident we will be successful if everyone pitches in to help.”
Wagner and the NWCUA issued a sample MBL update to share with credit union staff (available upon request) as a way to help keep the entire movement appraised of the bill’s progress and the effectiveness of the advocacy efforts working behind it. CUNA’s MBL Initiative Page and Grassroots Action Center also remain excellent tools in the continued push.
“We will need your help again,” Wagner said. “When a vote is announced, or when we know we’re close, we will once again rely on credit unions’ grassroots power to push this issue across the finish line.”
Questions? Contact a member of the Association’s Legislative Affairs team: