Busy Political Summer Leaves Questions in a Divided Nation
Washington usually turns into a ghost town in August.
The humidity becomes overbearing, so people who can find the time flee town. Congress isn't in session and it's the last chance families have to take a vacation before school starts.
But this year, as we all know, Washington went politically nuts in August. All sorts of crazy things happened – many of them emanating from the White House. There's no need to catalogue all of them here.
But as Congress returned, its must-do list has been huge.
Hurricane relief. The debt ceiling. Immigration law overhaul. Keeping the lights turned on in federal agencies. Reauthorizing the children's health program and the FAA. The Dreamers.
Oh yeah, then there's Obamacare and the wall.
That's not to mention the myriad of investigations into whether President Trump colluded with the Russians in winning the election or obstructed justice by attempting to hinder probes into the allegations.
Who knows what else will creep up on us.
And the president isn't getting along with anyone except his best friends. And even some of them aren't so fond of him some days.
Harry S. Truman said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” At the rate he's going, if Trump got a dog, he’d make it mad and it would bite him.
Trump's approval ratings are approaching those usually reserved for used car salespeople and journalists.
Every one of the major issues facing Congress will have an impact on the issues that credit union folks care about. So, as we head into the fall, here's the state of play of some of those issues.
Remember this? Credit union leaders started the year optimistic that Congress was committed to making substantial changes to Dodd-Frank.
But optimism doesn't produce laws. Votes do.
It seems like years ago when the House passed the Financial CHOICE Act – House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling's attempt to overhaul Dodd-Frank.
The legislation hasn't gone anywhere since the House passed it in June. And it's not likely to go anywhere soon.
Senate Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Id.) and his ranking Democrat, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, have held a series of hearings on changes to Dodd-Frank.
Crapo and Brown have been saying nice things about each other and have pledged to produce a bipartisan bill.
Anything that the Senate can pass would have to be bipartisan, since it's likely to take 60 votes to get it through that body. And anything that can get 60 votes in the Senate is likely to be tinkering, rather than a full replacement of Dodd-Frank.
And then there's the question of whether the House would accept a watered-down regulatory overhaul bill.
Everyone's yammering about tax reform. But yammering won't produce tax reform. Votes will (catch a theme here?).
It's easy to be in favor of tax reform. I mean, everyone has something they hate about the income tax code. But even in the best of times, it's tough to get a consensus on Capitol Hill about what changes should be made in the tax code.
And in case you haven't noticed, these ain't the best of times. Tax reform is tough. Every change gores someone's ox. Every comma increases someone's tax and cuts someone else's (OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point).
Anyway, with so much else on their plates and deep political divisions, will Congress really be able to tackle something so complex and divisive as tax reform?
It will be a miracle if anything substantive is enacted.
Which, of course, is a bit of good news for credit unions. It means that their tax exemption is safe until someone else tries to reform the tax code.
OK, this was the year when those big bad guys at the agency whom credit unions hate were going to get it.
Trump was going to fire Director Richard Cordray or make his life so miserable that he’d leave and never come back.
And if that didn't work, federal judges were going to say that the agency's makeup was unconstitutional.
The CFPB rules on arbitration and payday lending were going to be buried forever. The agency was going to be neutered and their powers so weakened that it might never be heard from again.
So what's happened? Nothing. Cordray still has a job. The federal court hasn't ruled yet and Trump hasn't fired Cordray. And it looks like the only way he's leaving before his term is up next summer is if he decides he wants to run for governor of Ohio.
The agency's rulemaking powers haven't been weakened at all.
Many Democrats like the agency. And The New York Times recently reported that the agency may be so popular that its opponents aren't going to succeed in their efforts to abolish it.
Trump has two vacancies to fill on the NCUA board, since Rick Metsger's term has technically expired.
Folks in the credit union community say Trump may not nominate replacements until late fall. Then, the nominees must go through the confirmation process, which could be quick or could last for months.
So, what does all this mean? It means that Trump's self-described ability to cut deals isn't working in Washington. It means that Charlottesville and the abysmal response by some of our leaders have divided the country even more.
And it means that until some statesmen and stateswomen step up and start leading, the most we can hope for on many issues is tinkering along the edges.
David Baumann is a Correspondent-at-Large at Credit Union Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.