Merkley Shares Senate Reform Agenda with Credit Unions

Congress may be in recess, but Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley is not. For him, the month of August is a “district work period” during which he’s meeting with constituents at every level in, it seems, every corner of the state.

Thursday, the Senator’s travels brought him to the Northwest Credit Union Association office in Tigard for a meeting with a large group of Oregon credit union leaders. Serving on the influential Appropriations Committee and the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, Sen. Merkley shared an aggressive agenda to reform how the Senate operates.

He gave the example of the Member Business Lending measure, legislation enabling well-capitalized credit unions to do more business lending, which currently requires a 60-vote supermajority to get through a divided Senate. A vote on the measure was delayed during the final days of the 112th Congress in late 2012, a period when a divided Congress made little progress.

“Someday, Mark Udall’s bill will get a vote,” Merkley said. But he acknowledged a simple majority requirement would likely have resulted in passage previously.

Sen. Merkley told the credit union delegation that he knows the credit union tax status is constantly threatened. He stressed the importance for credit unions to “keep talking about the reasons for it.”

As in any meeting between financial institutions and elected officials, conversation around the regulatory burden ran deep.

Sen. Merkley anticipates continued dialogue about the boundaries of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). “I’m a big fan,” he said. “There were some terribly predatory practices that contributed to the economic downturn of 2008.”

The Senator acknowledged that credit unions were not generally engaged in the predatory practices that resulted in the economic crisis, and that financial reform regulations that are appropriate for some of the largest banks can “cast a shadow” on community credit unions.

He said that it’s a “continuing balancing act to authentically take on practices that may be unethical, without applying a regulatory burden where it doesn’t belong.”

As a result, Sen. Merkley said he is in ongoing dialogue with regulators “to challenge certain directions” rules might take. And he encouraged credit unions to continue to inform his office of the consequences of such regulation.

“There is a whole second world where we can still weigh in even after a national statute has passed,” Merkley said.

Housing reform is also high on Merkley’s policy agenda, and as part of that conversation, so are college costs. He noted that, in the younger generations, more high school graduates own homes than college graduates. Merkley  said that heavy loads of student debt from college are pushing down credit scores and draining monthly budgets.

In addition to policy meetings with constituents this month, the Senator is on the campaign trail. The November elections are less than three months away.

Questions about this story? Contact James Pearson: 206.340.4790, jpearson@nwcua.org.

Posted in Advocacy News, Article Post.