Avoiding the Procedural Trap and Living to Fight Another Day
“While nothing is certain, the promise of a vote seems as firm as possible at this stage. Winning the vote depends on our ability to solidify and expand on the support we have in the Senate. We’ll need the people most invested in the success of this legislation to speak out and speak loudly. The deck is stacked against us: while the bankers who oppose us are formidable, our greatest challenge to getting this done is the fact that the Congressional process has essentially collapsed. We’re fighting not just the banks, but also historical Congressional gridlock.”
So, what happened? Why was there no vote on MBL?
Credit union executives, volunteers and small business members showed up in December – hundreds took to Capitol Hill on a cool December afternoon. Tens of thousands wrote their Senators and Representatives. There was even a degree of interest on the part of the media in Washington and elsewhere in the country. The problem we ultimately ran into was that the same gridlock that all but stopped substantive lawmaking in the 112th Congress dealt our MBL bill a critical setback just as our momentum was at its apex: it was impossible to get the up or down vote on the merits.
If anyone wonders what would have happened if we had pursued the vote we were offered, look no further than the outcome of the vote on the bankers’ bill to extend the Transaction Account Guarantee (TAG) program, which failed on a procedural vote to waive a budget point of order. The same thing would have happened to our bill. In fact, the two procedural votes on the TAG bill are very instructive with respect to what was happening in the undercurrent of the Senate floor debate in December.
Ramping up for a battle on filibuster reform here in January, Democrats and Republicans were using every angle to make their points. Senate Republicans, frustrated that the Democratic majority regularly blocked them from offering amendments to legislation on the Senate floor, had been filibustering the “motion to proceed” on almost every bill in the Second Session. To prove their point, they allowed the TAG to go to the floor by voting for the motion to proceed, and once the Senate began consideration of the bill, Democrats used parliamentary procedure to restrict the consideration of amendments. When that point was made, conservatives objected to the bill – at our urging – because it violated “pay as you go” budget rules, and the bill died when the Senate did not waive those rules.
The MBL bill’s fate would have been exactly the same. There is no doubt that the bankers would have encouraged the same Senators who objected to the TAG bill to raise objection to the MBL bill, and our legislation would have died largely as a result of a debate on filibuster reform.
In Washington, there is a vast difference between losing a vote and not having a vote. We opted not to take a quixotic vote to preserve an opportunity to pursue the issue again this year because the setback from losing a vote – even on a procedural motion – would have brought to a fast and final end any reasonable chance we had to increase the business lending cap. That outcome wouldn’t have been fair to the thousands of advocates who have worked to advance this issue over the years, and it certainly wouldn’t have been fair to the credit union small business members who need and want access to additional credit from their credit union.
As the new Congress gets underway, we’ll continue to press Congress to permit credit unions with business lending experience to continue to serve their members. The good news is that while the deck is still stacked against us, the election brought us new supporters in the Senate and the House. We expect the bills to be reintroduced in both chambers early in the session, and we’ll work closely with our Congressional champions to maneuver the gridlock on Capitol Hill that seems to worsen each week.