CRS Insights

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The Trump Administration Directives on Western Water

On October 19, 2018, the Trump Administration released a Presidential Memorandum directing federal agencies to address regulations that burden federal water projects in California and complete biological opinions under the Endangered Species Act (ESA; 16 U.S.C. §§1531 et seq.) for specific federal water projects in the western United States. Affected projects include the California Central Valley Project (CVP), the Klamath Irrigation Project in Oregon, and the Columbia River Basin water system in the Pacific Northwest. The White House memorandum does not carry the force of law nor is it a...

Marijuana Legalization in Canada: Implications for U.S. Policy and International Drug Control

On October 17, 2018, Canada became the second country—after Uruguay in 2013—to legalize and regulate the production, distribution, and possession of marijuana for recreational purposes. The measure comes at a time when other countries are questioning their drug policies and U.S. states are forging policy paths that diverge from federal law. These developments have spurred questions from Congress regarding their potential implications for U.S. domestic and international drug policy.

Canada’s Cannabis Act

Canada’s Cannabis Act allows individuals 18 years of age or older to purchase...

The DOD’s JEDI Cloud Program

In September 2017, Deputy Secretary of Defense (DSD) Patrick Shanahan issued a memorandum calling for the accelerated adoption of a Department of Defense (DOD)-wide cloud computing system. Under the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) Cloud program, DOD seeks to “acquire a...cloud services solution that can support Unclassified, Secret, and Top Secret requirements,” with a focus on commercially available services. Significant industry and congressional attention has been focused on the JEDI Cloud contract.

What is Cloud Computing?

Broadly speaking, cloud computing refers to the...

Hurricane Michael: Brief Overview of FEMA Programs and Resources

Introduction

This Insight provides a brief overview of emergency and major disaster declarations relevant to Hurricane Michael, and selected federal resources and links to CRS products related to Stafford Act declarations, disaster response, and recovery.

Hurricane Michael made landfall on the panhandle of Florida as a category 4 on October 10, 2018 and affected parts of Georgia. In anticipation of the landfall, President Trump issued an emergency declaration to Florida on October 7, 2018. On October 11, 2018, the President issued an emergency declaration to Georgia, and issued a major...

Military Lending Act: Rules, Enforcement, and Servicemember Financial Stability

The Military Lending Act (MLA, 10 U.S.C. §987) regulates commercial lending practices and products offered to military servicemembers and their dependents. The Department of Defense (DOD) implements the provisions of this act and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) oversees and enforces consumer protection laws and regulations. Some have argued that Military Lending Act rules place undue regulatory burdens on businesses that provide credit products. Others have argued that these rules provide important servicemember protections from abusive financial practices and, in turn,...

What Is the Effect of Enacting a Congressional Review Act Resolution of Disapproval?

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) provides Congress with a set of special parliamentary procedures to consider legislation to overturn federal regulations. Thus far, the 115th Congress has disapproved a total of 16 regulations that had been issued by the Obama Administration, leading to questions about the effects of enactment of a CRA disapproval resolution.

Enactment of a CRA joint resolution of disapproval has two primary effects—one immediate and one more long-term. The immediate effect is that a rule subject to a disapproval resolution may not go into effect, or, if the rule has...

North Korea Diplomacy: October 2018 Status Report

Summary of Developments During 2018

Since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in early 2018 dropped the belligerent posture that Pyongyang had displayed the past several years and embarked on a “charm offensive,” he has held three summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, three with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and one with President Donald Trump, in Singapore in June 2018. The United States and North Korea are considering a second Trump-Kim summit in the coming months.

To date, these summits and other events have produced the following results:

North Korea’s Nuclear and Missile...

U.S. Withdrawal from the INF Treaty

U.S. Withdrawal

President Donald Trump has announced that the United States will withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. His national security advisor, John Bolton, relayed this to officials in Moscow during a visit that began on October 21, although an official notice of withdrawal was not provided.

Under the INF Treaty, the United States and Soviet Union agreed to ban all land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The ban applied to missiles with both nuclear and conventional warheads, but it did not apply to...

FDA Warns of Youth Epidemic of E-Cigarette Use, Faces Regulatory Challenges

Background

An electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) is a battery-operated device typically containing nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals that create inhalable vapor. According to the 2018 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, Public Health Consequences of E-Cigarettes, e-cigarette vapor contains fewer toxicants than combusted cigarette smoke.

In a recent announcement, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Scott Gottlieb wrote:

The FDA now believes that youth use of e-cigarettes is reaching epidemic proportions. This belief is based on not just the results of the...

Macedonia: Next Steps Toward Finalizing Prespa Agreement

A September 30, 2018, referendum on changing Macedonia’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia produced rival interpretations from the government and opposition. Despite voter turnout (37%) being lower than many expected, nearly 92% of those who voted approved changing the country’s name to resolve a long-standing dispute with Greece and facilitate Macedonia’s eventual membership in NATO and the European Union (EU). Based on this relatively high margin of victory, the government of Zoran Zaev claimed that the nonbinding referendum result was a clear mandate to move forward with a...

Australia’s Hung Parliament and Elections

Introduction

A surprise defeat in an October 20 parliamentary by-election in the Australian electorate of Wentworth left the conservative Liberal Party-led government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison without a majority in parliament. Independent politician Kerryn Phelps’ victory in the Wentworth district ended extended conservative control of the seat, which was long held by former Liberal Party Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. One interpretation of the swing in voter sentiment away from the Liberal candidate is that voters sought to punish the party for ousting Turnbull as Prime Minister...

Congress Considers Possible Responses to the Killing of a Saudi Journalist

Congress is considering potential responses to the killing of prominent Saudi Arabian journalist and former diplomatic advisor Jamal Khashoggi. Some Members of Congress have requested additional information from the executive branch, raised the prospect of targeted U.S. sanctions, or introduced legislation to limit security cooperation with Saudi Arabia until the executive branch makes a determination concerning Saudi government involvement.

Khashoggi, an outspoken, self-exiled critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abd al Aziz Al Saud, was killed by Saudi government...

Drought Contingency Plans for the Colorado River Basin

The Colorado River Basin is a critical source of water and power supplies for seven western states and Mexico. The basin is in the midst of a long-term drought, and water levels at its two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, could reach critically low levels. Building on several prior agreements, the basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) recently announced Drought Contingency Plans that aim to decrease the likelihood of major water and power supply curtailments for users.

Colorado River Basin in Context

The Colorado River Basin (Figure 1) covers approximately...

U.S.-Japan Announce New Limited Trade Negotiations

On September 26, 2018, President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Abe announced plans to enter into formal bilateral negotiations for a “United-States Japan Trade Agreement on goods, as well as on other key areas including services, that can produce early achievements.” The announcement appeared to end a nearly two-year stalemate, in which Japan was resisting U.S. pressure to enter into bilateral trade talks, and at least temporarily suspended the threat of new U.S. tariffs against Japanese motor vehicles and auto parts.

While the joint statement offers few details on overall negotiating...

Are There Any Systemically Important Nonbanks?

During the 2008 financial crisis, problems at AIG, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers led to broader financial instability or government “bailouts” in order to prevent instability. At the time, these firms were nonbank financial institutions and not generally subject to effective safety and soundness regulation on a consolidated basis.

The Dodd Frank Act (P.L. 111-203) provided the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) with the authority to designate nonbanks for enhanced prudential oversight by the Federal Reserve as systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs). Since...

Momentum Toward Peace Talks in Afghanistan?

Developments in Afghanistan since February 2018, including a potential change in the U.S. stance toward direct talks with the Taliban, have increased the prospects for a negotiated end to the conflict there. In August 2017, President Trump said, “Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but nobody knows if or when that will ever happen.” In the following months, American military operations intensified, with the number of U.S. troops in the country rising to about 15,000.

A...

Brazil’s Presidential Election

Brazil—the fifth most populous country and ninth-largest economy in the world—held general elections on October 7, 2018. Antiestablishment sentiment carried the day, as Brazilians replaced almost half of their congressional representatives and nearly elected a right-wing populist to the presidency. A presidential runoff election, scheduled for October 28, will have significant implications for the economic and foreign policies of this U.S. “strategic partner.”

Domestic Context

Over the past several years, Brazil has struggled to emerge from a series of domestic crises. The country fell...

Year-Round Sale of E15

Because of recent actions by the Trump Administration and other factors, congressional interest has grown concerning the year-round sale of E15—an ethanol-gasoline fuel blend of 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline. At present, E15 cannot be sold during summer months because it does not meet the Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) requirements under the Clean Air Act (CAA) for the summer ozone season (generally June 1-September 15). Recently, it has been reported that the Trump Administration directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to lift the summertime restriction, thus allowing year-round...

Postelection Issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina

During the wars of Yugoslav succession, many Members of Congress were active in the debate over U.S. policies toward Bosnia and Herzegovina (hereafter, Bosnia). The United States played a key role in brokering the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the war in Bosnia.

On October 7, 2018, Bosnia held its eighth general election since Dayton. At the central, statewide level, voters cast their ballots for the three-member presidency and the lower house of parliament. In Bosnia’s two semiautonomous units (the entities), elections were held for subnational legislatures and leaders....

Ebola: Democratic Republic of Congo

On August 1, 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that a new Ebola outbreak was detected in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), about one week after having declared that a separate outbreak had ended in the western part of the country. This new outbreak is occurring in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, the most populated provinces in DRC, where a humanitarian crisis affecting over 1 million displaced people is ongoing. Health workers have begun vaccinating people in the districts to control the spread of the disease, though armed conflict in the areas is...

Status of FY2019 LHHS Appropriations

On Friday, September 28, the President signed into law H.R. 6157 (P.L. 115-245), which contains full-year FY2019 appropriations for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) in Division B. This is the first occasion since the FY1997 appropriations cycle that full-year LHHS appropriations have been enacted on or before the start of the fiscal year (October 1). In addition to providing full-year appropriations for LHHS, P.L. 115-245 also provides full-year appropriations for the Department of Defense (Division A) and continuing...

South Sudan’s Civil War: Nearly 400,000 Estimated Dead

South Sudan, which became the world’s newest country when it split from Sudan in 2011, has been mired in civil war since December 2013. The war has had a devastating impact, displacing some 4.5 million people and fueling near-famine conditions. With over 7.1 million people severely food insecure in 2018, it is among the world’s worst humanitarian crises, and the U.N. humanitarian appeal for $1.4 billion in assistance is among the largest. South Sudan is one of the most dangerous environments for aid workers, with over 100 killed since the war began. The death toll from the conflict,...

Global Trade Imbalances

In July 2018, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released its latest report on global trade imbalances that identifies countries with “excessive” current account balances and exchange rates that are “misaligned.” The current account is a broad measure of a country’s global economic engagement and is comprised of trade in goods, services, and official flows. The report indicates that 40% to 50% of countries had imbalances that were “excessive,” and that imbalances of about 3.25% of world GDP—both surpluses and deficits—remained constant in 2017, as indicated in Figure 1. In other words,...

Canada’s Dairy Supply Management System

On August 31, 2018, President Donald Trump notified Congress that he intended to sign a new trade agreement with Mexico in 90 days, and with Canada “if it is willing.” Since then, United States and Canada have been negotiating to bring Canada into the agreement. Both sides have signaled that dairy, and, in particular, Canada’s Class 7 milk category, remains one of the toughest obstacles to overcome. As both sides continue negotiations, this product provides a brief overview of how the Canadian government manages its dairy industry supply chains—as well as of the controversy surrounding the...

The September 2018 Inter-Korean Summit

From September 18 to 20, South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited North Korea and held approximately five hours of meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. During the summit, their third since April 2018, the two leaders issued a Pyongyang Joint Declaration pledging denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, improvements in inter-Korean relations, and confidence-building measures to ease military tension. Kim promised to visit Seoul “at an early date.”

The Moon-Kim summit has created potential opportunities and obstacles for the United States. The summit appears to have injected...

Escalating Tariffs: Timeline

Concerns over trading partner trade practices and the U.S. trade deficit have been a focus of the Trump Administration. Citing these concerns and others, the President has imposed tariffs under three U.S. laws and authorities that allow the Administration to unilaterally impose trade restrictions: (1) Section 201 (Table 1) on U.S. imports of washing machines and solar products; (2) Section 232 (Table 2) on U.S. imports of steel and aluminum, and potentially autos and uranium, and (3) Section 301 (Table 3) on U.S. imports from China. Congress delegated aspects of its constitutional...

Escalating Tariffs: Potential Impacts

Concerns over trading partner trade practices and the U.S. trade deficit have been a focus of the Trump Administration. For a timeline of recent actions, see CRS Insight IN10943, Escalating Tariffs: Timeline. Citing these concerns and others, the President has imposed tariffs under three U.S. laws and authorities (Figure 1) that allow the Administration to unilaterally impose trade restrictions: (1) Section 201 on U.S. imports of washing machines and solar products; (2) Section 232 on U.S. imports of steel and aluminum, and potentially autos and uranium, and (3) Section 301 on U.S. imports...

Electronic Filing of Senate Campaign Finance Reports

A FY2019 appropriations measure significantly changes campaign finance reporting requirements for Senate candidates. Report contents will not change, but the method of filing will. The provision appears in H.R. 5895, a minibus package that includes three FY2019 appropriations bills: Energy and Water Development, the Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. The Senate and House adopted the conference report accompanying the bill on September 12 and 13, respectively. The President signed the measure on September 21, 2018. In the 115th Congress, the electronic...

Consumer Protections in Private Health Insurance for Individuals with Preexisting Health Conditions

Individuals with preexisting health conditions may have concerns about practices in the private health insurance market in which insurers use medical underwriting to assess their risk of offering health insurance to applicants. Before full implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s; P.L. 111-148, as amended) insurance reforms, subject to certain exceptions, insurers generally were permitted to consider health factors in determining the offer of insurance, its price, and covered health services. Although references to individuals with preexisting conditions commonly focus on the...

NAFTA and the Preliminary U.S.-Mexico Agreement

Overview

On August 31, 2018, President Trump notified Congress of his intention to “enter into a trade agreement with Mexico – and with Canada if it is willing.” This notification and an announcement on August 27, 2018, that the United States and Mexico had reached a preliminary agreement in principle—subject to finalization and implementation—served as the culmination of a year of talks among the NAFTA partners. Talks with Canada have not concluded, and it is unclear whether Congress would support an agreement that does not include Canada. The United States and Mexico stated that they...

Hurricane Florence: Brief Overview of FEMA Programs and Resources

Introduction

This Insight provides a brief overview of emergency and major disaster declarations relevant to Hurricane Florence, and selected federal resources and links to CRS products related to emergency and disaster declarations, disaster response, and recovery.

Hurricane Florence made landfall at Wrightsville Beach, NC, as a category 1 hurricane on September 14, 2018. In anticipation of the landfall, President Trump has issued emergency declarations to Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

Authorized under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act...

Senate Confirmation Votes on U.S. Supreme Court Nominations: Overview

After the Senate Judiciary Committee reports a Supreme Court nomination, it is placed on the Senate Executive Calendar (to be considered in executive session). Senate consideration of a Supreme Court nomination includes floor debate on the nomination, as well as a final vote by the Senate on whether to approve it. When floor debate on a nomination ends, the presiding officer puts the question of confirmation to a vote. A roll call vote to confirm requires a simple majority of Senators present and voting, a quorum being present. Since 1967, beginning with the confirmation of Thurgood...

FY2019 Appropriations for the Department of Energy

Overview

The Department of Energy (DOE) is funded through the Energy and Water Development appropriations bill. The President’s FY2019 budget request is $30.4 billion for the DOE, approximately $4.2 billion (12%) less than the FY2018 enacted level of $34.6 billion (see P.L. 115-141 and Title III of Division D, Explanatory Statement on page H2481). Conference report H.Rept. 115-929 to accompany H.R. 5895, which includes the FY2019 Energy and Water appropriations bill in a three-bill “minibus” funding bill, was filed on September 10, 2018. According to the joint explanatory statement, the...

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), Reinsurance, and Catastrophe Bonds

Insurance generally serves to transfer risk from one entity who does not want to bear that risk to another entity that does. An initial insurance purchase, such as homeowners buying a policy to cover damage to their home, however, is often only the first transfer of that risk. The initial (or primary) insurer may then transfer (or cede) some or all of this risk to another company or investor, such as a reinsurer. Reinsurers may also further transfer (or retrocede) risks to other reinsurers. Such risk transfers are, on the whole, a net cost for primary insurers, just as purchasing insurance...

National Flood Insurance Program Borrowing Authority

This Insight evaluates the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) borrowing authority to receive loans from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, particularly in the context of major floods, and discusses the current financial situation of the NFIP.

NFIP Funding

Funding for the NFIP is primarily maintained in an authorized account called the National Flood Insurance Fund (NFIF). Generally, the NFIP has been funded from receipts from the premiums of flood insurance policies, including fees and surcharges; direct annual appropriations for specific costs of the NFIP (currently only flood...

Closing the Flood Insurance Gap

There is a large flood insurance gap in the United States, where many people that are exposed to flood risk are not covered by flood insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is the primary source of residential flood insurance. More than 22,000 communities participate in the NFIP, with over 5 million policies providing $1.28 trillion in coverage.

The NFIP identifies areas at high risk of flooding as Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs). Property owners are required to purchase flood insurance only if (1) their properties are in SFHAs, (2) their communities participate in the...

Army Futures Command (AFC)

The Issue

The Army’s post-Cold War development of major combat systems has been characterized by a number of high-profile program cancellations, such as Crusader, an artillery system cancelled in 2002 after having spent $2.2 billion; Comanche, a helicopter program cancelled in 2004 after having spent $7.9 billion; and the Future Combat System (FCS), cancelled in 2009 after having spent $18.1 billion. In addition to the expenditure of resources, these cancellations have impeded the development of newer, more capable systems, permitting potential adversaries to achieve battlefield parity...

Decision to Stop U.S. Funding of UNRWA (for Palestinian Refugees)

On August 31, 2018, the State Department announced that the United States will not make further contributions to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), but will seek to help “innocent Palestinians” through other models and approaches. The U.S. decision to end contributions could greatly affect UNRWA, which provides services for around 5.4 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. The decision also has other important humanitarian and political implications. The United States has been a major contributor...

Department of Transportation Considering Changes to Trucking Hours of Service Rule

On August 23, 2018, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) seeking information and public comment about several changes in the Hours of Service limits for commercial drivers that it was considering. The comment period is scheduled to end on September 24, 2018. FMCSA is also holding public listening sessions.

In order to promote safety by reducing the incidence of fatigue among commercial drivers, in 1935 Congress authorized the Department of Transportation (DOT) to limit the number of hours a driver could drive....

Senators Lying in State in the U.S. Capitol

On August 31, 2018, Senator John McCain, who died on August 25, will lie in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. Traditionally an honor bestowed upon American statesmen and military leaders, 30 individuals (not including Senator McCain) have lain in state or honor in the Capitol Rotunda. Additionally, unknown soldiers from World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and from the Vietnam era have also lain in state.

Individuals who served as a government official (e.g., Member of Congress, President, Vice President) and as military leaders have traditionally lain in state, while private...

Universal Postal Union to Convene an Extraordinary Congress

The Universal Postal Union (UPU)

Established in 1874, the Universal Postal Union (UPU) is the primary forum for multilateral cooperation and negotiation of international postal issues among nations worldwide. According to its website, the UPU “helps to ensure a truly universal network of up-to-date products and services.”

The primary decisionmaking body of the UPU is the UPU Congress. Normally, the Congress convenes every four years and was next scheduled to meet in 2020. On September 3, 2018, however, the UPU is scheduled to hold an “Extraordinary Congress” for the first time since 1900....

Agricultural Trade with Mexico and the Preliminary U.S.-Mexico Agreement in NAFTA Negotiations

On August 27, 2018, the Trump Administration announced that it had reached a preliminary agreement with Mexico in the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The announcement followed more than a year of negotiations among the United States, Canada, and Mexico on NAFTA at the request of the Trump Administration. Canada is currently in talks for a possible trilateral agreement. Mexico is the third leading export market for U.S. agricultural goods; therefore, any agreement could affect U.S. farmers, ranchers, and food manufacturers.

Overview of U.S.-Mexico...

Records, Papers, Decisions: Kavanaugh Records and the Presidential Records Act

Since Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court was received on July 10, papers detailing his activities in the George W. Bush Administration and the Office of Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr have been the subject of ongoing congressional interest. Specifically, many Members of Congress have discussed the public release of Judge Kavanaugh’s records and whether the scope and volume of records released is similar to the records of previous Supreme Court nominees.

The release and maintenance of records pertaining to Judge Kavanaugh’s tenure in...

GSA Releases Sources Sought Notice and Sets Goal to Assume Certain OPM Functions by March 2019

On June 21, 2018, the Trump Administration released a government reorganization and reform plan that included 32 proposals to restructure and reform executive branch agencies, programs, or operations. One proposal sought to reorganize the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), particularly by transferring five program offices to other agencies (Figure 1). Under the proposal, functions of three program offices would be transferred to a “Government Services Administration” (currently the General Services Administration, or GSA)

Human Resources Solutions (HRS),

Healthcare and Insurance...

FDIC’s Deposit Insurance Assessments and Reserve Ratio

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (P.L. 111-203; Dodd-Frank Act) changed the minimum deposit insurance reserve ratio to 1.35% from 1.15% and required the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to meet the increased reserve ratio by 2020. The Dodd-Frank Act also required the FDIC to offset the effects of the higher reserve ratio of 1.35% on banks with assets of less than $10 billion. The FDIC Board of Directors approved a final rule in March 2016 to meet this requirement by 2018. The approved plan changes how the assessments are apportioned between large...

Gun Control: 3D-Printed AR-15 Lower Receivers

The possibility that criminals could use three dimensional-printing (3D-printing) technology to produce “untraceable” firearms, including AR-15s, is an issue of growing concern for some lawmakers. It overlaps in part with the issue of 3D-printed “undetectable” firearms discussed in a previous Insight (CRS Insight IN10953, Gun Control: 3D-Printed Firearms).

Defense Distributed, a federally licensed firearms manufacturer, recently uploaded 3D-printable computer assisted design (CAD) files on its website for an AR-15 type rifle, including its lower receiver. The lower receiver is the...

Treasury Completes Series of Reports on Financial Regulatory Relief

President Donald Trump issued Executive Order (E.O.) 13772 on February 3, 2017. The E.O. identified “Core Principles” to be adhered to in financial regulation and directed the Secretary of the Treasury to report on “the extent to which ... Government policies promote the Core Principles and what actions have been taken, and are currently being taken, to promote and support the Core Principles.” The principles are as follows:

empower Americans to make independent financial decisions and informed choices in the marketplace, save for retirement, and build individual wealth;

prevent...

Election Security: Issues in the 2018 Midterm Elections

In the wake of assessments about foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election, concerns have been mounting about the security of the 2018 midterm elections. Security efforts are complicated by the complex, multidimensional election life cycle, with each dimension involving a broad array of components. The main dimensions can be thought of as election administration, campaign activities, and media coverage.

Traditionally, concerns about election security have focused largely on election administration. In the wake of the 2016 election, the Department of Homeland Security...

Strange Occurrences Highlight Insider Threat to Aviation Security

On the evening of August 10, 2018, an airline ramp worker stole a 76-seat turboprop from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, crashing it on a remote wooded island in an apparent suicide. Days later, on August 13, 2018, a corporate pilot released on bail following a domestic violence arrest hours earlier stole a business jet and crashed it into his Utah home. In another incident in Utah in July 2012, a SkyWest Airlines pilot sought by authorities regarding the stabbing death of his girlfriend stole a regional jet from the St. George Municipal Airport and crashed it through an airport...

Proposed U.S.-EU Trade Negotiations: Hitting Pause on a Trade War?

On July 25, 2018, the United States and European Union (EU) announced a “new phase” in their relationship for “freer, fairer, and more reciprocal trade.” They agreed to launch negotiations to eliminate tariffs, nontariff barriers, and subsidies on “non-auto industrial goods,” as well as to boost trade specifically in services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products, and U.S. soybeans. Amid a potential tit-for-tat escalation of tariffs, the two sides agreed not to impose further tariffs on each other’s traded products while negotiations are active and to examine current U.S. steel and...

Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) FY2019 Appropriations and Financial Regulatory Reform

Background

On July 19, 2018, the House passed H.R. 6147, which included an FY2019 Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) appropriations bill (originally H.R. 6258) as Division B. The Senate passed a substitute version of H.R. 6147 on August 1, 2018, with the Senate FY2019 FSGG bill (originally S. 3107) as Division B.

Although financial services are a focus of the FSGG bill, the bill does not include funding for most of the financial service regulators. Instead, this funding comes through a variety of sources, including fees or assessments on regulated institutions. (See CRS...

Fourth Treasury Report on Regulatory Relief: Nonbanks and Financial Technology

On July 31, 2018, the Department of the Treasury issued a report, “A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities: Nonbank Financials, Fintech, and Innovation,” that examines financial institutions and activities for which the application of traditional regulation may present challenges due to advances in financial technology (“fintech”). It is the last in a series of four reports written in accordance with Executive Order (E.O.) 13772 issued by President Donald Trump on February 3, 2017, which directed the Secretary of the Treasury to report on the financial regulatory system....

Gun Control: 3D-Printed Firearms

In May 2013, Defense Distributed, a federally licensed firearms manufacturer, posted on its website computer assisted design (CAD) files for three dimensional-printing (3D-printing) of a single-shot, smoothbore, .380 caliber pistol that could be made almost entirely with non-metallic material. The design of this firearm, the “Liberator,” does not appear to violate the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 (18 U.S.C. §922(p)), because it includes the requisite amount of steel. This statute prohibits the manufacture, importation, transfer, or possession of any firearm that

is [not] detectable to...

The Electronic Logging Device (ELD) Controversy

In December 2017, after years of preparation, most commercial trucks were required to be equipped with an electronic logging device (ELD) that would automatically record how long the driver had been driving. There had been little controversy about this requirement during its two-year phase-in period, but after it took effect, portions of the commercial trucking industry began to complain about its impact. Pending legislation would exempt certain drivers from the mandate through FY2019.

Most commercial drivers are paid by the mile, and so have an incentive to drive as much as possible....

Categorical Exclusions, Metroplexes, and Aircraft Noise Complaints

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has initiated changes to airspace and flight procedures to take advantage of new technologies deployed under NextGen, a comprehensive air traffic modernization initiative that relies on satellite-based navigation and tracking to improve efficiency and airspace capacity. In some neighborhoods, however, FAA’s changes have increased overflights triggering complaints about aircraft noise. Some affected residents are seeking remedies from the agency, the courts, and Congress.

Categorical Exclusions

One of NextGen’s key objectives is to allow commercial...

Proposals to Impose Sanctions on Russian Sovereign Debt

The United States imposes sanctions on hundreds of Russian individuals and entities for aggression against Ukraine, election interference, malicious cyber activity, human rights violations, weapons proliferation, and other activities. Some Members of Congress are proposing additional sanctions in response to continuing objectionable behavior by the Russian government. One proposal is to sanction new debt issued by the Russian government. If enacted, U.S. investors would be prohibited from buying or trading new Russian sovereign debt.

Targeting Russian sovereign debt would escalate U.S....

Cambodian Election

The Cambodian National Assembly election, held on July 29, 2018, resulted in a victory for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). Critics viewed the election, in which the CPP likely won all 125 parliamentary seats, as neither free nor fair and the victory as “hollow” given that the CPP banned the largest opposition party in 2017. The Trump Administration stated that the poll “failed to represent the will of the Cambodian people” and represented “the most significant setback yet to the democratic system enshrined in Cambodia’s constitution...” Nearly 600,000 ballots, or roughly 9% of...

The World Trade Organization (WTO): U.S. Participation at Risk?

Trump Administration Approach to the WTO

In a break from past administrations, the Trump Administration has expressed doubt over the value of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to the U.S. economy. The United States was a key architect of the WTO—the 164-member international organization established in 1995 that oversees global trade rules and trade liberalization negotiations, and resolves trade disputes. In late June, media reports suggested that President Trump was considering withdrawing the United States from the WTO; U.S. officials have since said talks of withdrawal are “premature”...

What Happens If the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Lapses?

This Insight provides a short overview of what would happen if the NFIP were not to be reauthorized by November 30, 2018, and allowed to lapse. See CRS Report R45099, National Flood Insurance Program: Selected Issues and Legislation in the 115th Congress for the current status of NFIP reauthorization legislation.

Expiration of Certain NFIP Authorities

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is authorized by the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 (Title XIII of P.L. 90-448, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§4001 et seq.). The NFIP does not contain a single comprehensive expiration,...

Private Flood Insurance and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)

The NFIP was first authorized by the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 (42 U.S.C. §§4001 et seq.), and was reauthorized until the end of FY2017 by the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 (BW-12, Title II of P.L. 112-141). After a series of short-term reauthorizations, P.L. 115-225 reauthorized the NFIP until November 30, 2018. In statute, Congress has found that

(1) many factors have made it uneconomic for the private insurance industry alone to make flood insurance available to those in need of such protection on reasonable...

Ethiopia’s New Prime Minister Visits the United States to “Build Bridges”

Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, arrived in the United States on July 26 for a three-city tour, with stops in Washington, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. It is his first U.S. trip since being elected by parliament on April 2, and the visit is focused on engaging the Ethiopian diaspora, who represent the second largest African diaspora population in the United States. Prime Minister Abiy’s early outreach to Ethiopian-Americans is noteworthy, given outspoken criticism from some regarding governance under the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which has...

Commodity Credit Corporation: Q&A

On July 24, 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the use of up to $12 billion in funding authorized under the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) to compensate agricultural producers for losses in response to retaliatory tariffs on certain U.S. agricultural commodities. This has raised general questions related to the CCC, its use, and authorities. In brief, CCC makes payments to producers and conducts other operations to support U.S. agriculture. Typically, Congress passes laws, such as omnibus farm bills, that specifically direct USDA on how to administer these...

Potential WTO Implications of USDA’s Proposed Response to Trade-Retaliation

On July 24, 2018, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would be taking several actions to assist farmers in response to trade damage from what the Administration has characterized as “unjustified retaliation.” Specifically, the Secretary said that USDA would authorize up to $12 billion in programs under the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) Charter Act (See CRS Report R44606, The Commodity Credit Corporation: In Brief) to help agricultural producers meet the costs of disrupted markets. (See CRS Insight IN10880, China’s Retaliatory...

Pipeline Safety: Overdue Statutory Mandates

The safety of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines in the United States is regulated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) within the Department of Transportation (DOT). For decades, Congress has reauthorized DOT’s pipeline safety program in stand-alone legislation. In addition, Congress has used reauthorizations to impose on PHMSA various mandates regarding standards, studies, and other elements of pipeline safety regulation—usually in response to major pipeline accidents. The Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 (P.L....

History of Use of U.S. Military Bases to House Immigrants and Refugees

Background

On June 20, 2018, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order that states “It is also the policy of this Administration to maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources” and that directs the Secretary of Defense to “take all legally available measures to provide to the Secretary [of Homeland Security], upon request, any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families, and shall construct such facilities if necessary and consistent with law.” On June 24,...

Australia and New Zealand React to China’s Growing Influence in the South Pacific

Overview

The July 24, 2018, Australia-United States Ministerial (AUSMIN) Joint Statement points to “deepening engagement [between the United States and Australia] in the Indo-Pacific.” Canberra and Wellington are increasingly responding to Chinese influence operations in the Pacific region, as demonstrated by a number of recent actions, including Australia’s passage of new foreign interference legislation; announcement of an possible new Australia-Vanuatu security agreement; New Zealand’s adoption of a new Strategic Defence Policy Statement; steps toward a new Pacific Islands Forum...

Resurgence of Chemical Weapons Use: Issues for Congress

With increasing numbers of incidents, the use of chemical weapons (CW) has become a growing international concern two decades after the international community decided to ban them under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The nerve agent sarin and chlorine bombs continue to be used by the Syrian regime on the battlefield in that country’s civil war; the Islamic State used mustard gas in that conflict in 2015 and 2016. The nerve agent VX was used to assassinate the brother of the North Korean leader in a Malaysian airport in 2017. Also, an attempted assassination of a former Russian...

Flying Cars and Drones Pose Policy Challenges for Managing and Regulating Low-Altitude Airspace

For more than half a century, “flying car” concepts have graced the covers of Popular Science magazine, have been featured in futuristic Hollywood sci-fi movies, and, of course, have hauled that famous space-age cartoon family, the Jetsons. Until recently, though, small hovercraft and drone-like air taxis existed only as prototype concepts and amateur-built curios. Recent advances in aerospace design and propulsion, as well as in computer control and autonomous systems, are raising the prospect that flying cars may soon become a reality. Development and marketing efforts are bringing to...

The Trump-Putin Summit

On July 16, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a summit in Helsinki, Finland. This was the first U.S.-Russia summit since 2010, when President Barack Obama met with Putin’s predecessor Dmitry Medvedev in Prague to sign the New START strategic arms reduction treaty.

The Presidents characterized the July 2018 summit as a first step to improving relations. President Trump stated his view that the United States and Russia need “to find ways to cooperate in pursuit of shared interests” and resolve global challenges. President Putin said his goal is to...

“Duck Boat” Accident Highlights Gap in Regulation

On July 19, 2018, an amphibious vehicle capsized during a sudden storm on a lake in Branson, MO, killing at least 17 passengers. The accident highlights gaps and discrepancies in federal safety regulations affecting amphibious passenger vehicles (APVs), more widely known as “duck boats.”

Duck boats are tourist vehicles designed both to drive on roads and operate as boats in the water. These vehicles host thousands of tours for more than 1 million passengers annually. The original vehicles were built during World War II to deliver cargo from ships at sea directly to the shore, and often to...

U.S. Army’s Initial Maneuver, Short-Range Air Defense (IM-SHORAD) System

The Current State of Army SHORAD The Army defines SHORAD as: Dedicated air defense artillery (ADA) and non-dedicated air defense capabilities that enable movement and maneuver by destroying, neutralizing or deterring low altitude air threats to defend critical fixed and semi-fixed assets and maneuver forces. The Army summarizes the recent history and current state of Army SHORAD in the following section: Short-range air defense artillery units were historically embedded in Army divisions, providing them with an organic capability to protect their critical assets against fixed-wing and...

Attaching a Price to Greenhouse Gas Emissions with a Carbon Tax or Emissions Fee

Significant debate continues about what, if any, policy initiatives may be appropriate or feasible to address greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Major scientific assessments in the United States and internationally conclude that “it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” Human-related GHG emissions, if continued, would tend to drive further warming, sea level rise, ocean acidification, and other impacts. Small future climate changes may bring benefits for some and adverse...

Public Disclosure of Corporate Tax Returns

Federal corporate tax returns are confidential and protected from public disclosure under section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), as enacted by the Tax Reform Act of 1976 (P.L. 94-455). Before 1976, corporate tax returns where classified as part of the “public record” to varying degrees. Since 1976, there have been occasional calls for the privacy veil to be lifted in response to aggressive tax planning and evasion. This Insight examines several issues surrounding public disclosure of corporate tax returns; however, the discussion below does not address important legal and...

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings for a Supreme Court Nominee: Overview

On July 9, 2018, President Trump announced his selection of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the impending vacancy that will be created on the U.S. Supreme Court by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy on July 31, 2018.

Supreme Court nominations since 1949 have routinely received public confirmation hearings before either the Senate Judiciary Committee or a Judiciary subcommittee. In 1955, hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of John M. Harlan marked the beginning of a practice, continuing to the present, of Court nominees testifying in-person before the Senate Judiciary Committee....

Tit-for-Tat Tariff Measures and U.S. Trade Policy

U.S. trade policy under President Trump has involved greater use of trade laws to address imports that threaten to impair U.S. national security (Section 232), and trade practices that may violate trade agreements or are “unjustifiable” or “unreasonable” (Section 301). Congress has held several hearings on controversial presidential actions under these laws, raising questions about their economic and broader policy implications.

As a result of Section 232 investigations launched by the Administration, the United States has unilaterally applied new tariffs on steel (25%), aluminum (10%),...

President’s Selection of a Nominee for a Supreme Court Vacancy: Overview

On June 27, 2018, Justice Anthony Kennedy, after serving on the Supreme Court as an Associate Justice since 1988, announced his intention to retire from the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Kennedy indicated that his retirement would be effective July 31, 2018. Subsequently, on July 9, 2018, President Donald Trump announced his intention to nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the impending Kennedy vacancy.

This Insight provides an overview of several issues related to the selection of a nominee by a President for a vacancy on the Court. For additional information and analyses on these and...

NATO’s 2018 Brussels Summit

Leaders from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’s) 29 member states are scheduled to hold a summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on July 11-12, 2018. The summit comes at a time of heightened U.S.-European tensions. Despite stated Trump Administration commitments to NATO and European security, some European allies are increasingly expressing concerns about President Trump’s criticisms of NATO and individual allies. Various European leaders appear to be growing doubtful about whether the United States will remain a reliable security partner, especially amid recent...

Broadband Data and Mapping

Improving the quality of broadband deployment data has become an issue of congressional interest, as policymakers recognize that more accurate broadband availability maps could help ensure that federal broadband programs target unserved areas of the country that are most in need of assistance.

Since the initial deployment of broadband in the late 1990s, two federal agencies have implemented broadband availability data collection and mapping initiatives: the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) at the Department of Commerce (DOC) and the Federal Communications...

Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA)

Some Members of Congress, the Trump Administration, and some U.S. businesses have raised concerns over continued U.S. technological leadership to support national defense and economic security due to growing foreign, primarily Chinese, investments in U.S. high-tech companies. These and other concerns motivated the House and the Senate to adopt measures, both known as the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018 (FIRRMA). The bills would amend the current process for the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) (under P.L. 110-49) to review, on behalf of...

TRICARE Modernization: Eligibility for the Federal Employee Dental and Vision Insurance Program

In an effort to improve TRICARE dental and vision coverage through “enhanced benefits,” in 2016 Congress expanded (P.L. 114-328) eligibility for the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP) to certain TRICARE beneficiaries. FEDVIP is a dental and vision benefit program for federal employees and annuitants. Uniformed services retirees and their family members are to be eligible to enroll in FEDVIP in November 2018, with coverage beginning on January 1, 2019. Non-active duty TRICARE beneficiaries (i.e., family members of uniformed service members, reserve component...

The Trump Administration’s Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations

On June 21, 2018, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century: Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations (the Reform Plan). The Reform Plan followed from Executive Order 13781, “Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch,” issued by President Donald J. Trump on March 13, 2017, and an OMB memorandum, M-17-22, “Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce,” issued on April 12, 2017. Federal agencies were required to submit initial agency reform plans to OMB in...

Proposed American Innovation $1 Coins

On June 20, 2018, the Senate passed an amended version of H.R. 770, the “American Innovation $1 Coin Act.” This bill would require the Secretary of the Treasury to mint new $1 coins “in recognition of American innovation and significant innovation and pioneering efforts of individuals or groups from each of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and the United States territories.” The proposed Innovation $1 coins would be minted beginning in 2019. The Senate’s action follows House passage of its version of H.R. 770 on January 16, 2018.

Congressional Involvement in Coin Design

The...

The G-7 Summit in Charlevoix, Canada: Changing U.S. Leadership in Global Forums

Canada hosted the 44th annual Group of 7 (G-7) summit on June 8-9 in Charlevoix, Quebec. The G-7 is an informal group of seven of the world’s largest advanced economies: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. With roots back to the 1970s, the G-7 leaders meet annually to discuss and coordinate economic and foreign policies. The agenda for the 2018 summit, set by Canada as the rotating chair, intended to focus on economic growth, gender equality, jobs, and the environment.

Discussions were marked by deep divisions between President Trump and other...

U.S. Crude Oil Exports and Retail Gasoline Prices

Since the beginning of 2018, average U.S. retail gasoline prices have risen approximately 18% and were nearly $3.00 per gallon at the end of May (see Figure 1). Over the same period, U.S. crude oil exports—for which restrictions were repealed in December 2015—have reached record levels. Average weekly export volumes from January to May 2018 have nearly doubled from average exports in all of 2017, to 1.7 million barrels per day (bpd). As a result, there has been congressional interest in understanding this tandem upward movement and the degree to which increasing crude oil exports might...

The June 12 Trump-Kim Jong-un Summit

On June 12, 2018, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met in Singapore to discuss North Korea’s nuclear program, building a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, and the future of U.S. relations with North Korea (known officially as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK). During their summit, the first-ever meeting between leaders of the two countries, Trump and Kim issued a brief joint statement in which Trump “committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK,” and Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of...

Iraq’s 2018 Elections

Iraqis are voting in national, regional, and provincial elections in 2018 as they seek to consolidate the country’s military victory over the Islamic State, rebuild shattered communities, and improve government performance. On May 12, Iraqi voters went to the polls to choose national legislators for four-year terms in the 329-seat Council of Representatives (COR), Iraq’s unicameral legislature. Turnout was lower in the 2018 COR election than in past national elections, but the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has stated that it was “largely peaceful and orderly” and has...

Increase in Illicit Fentanyl Overdose Deaths

Fentanyl, heroin, and some prescription painkillers (such as morphine and oxycodone) belong to the class of drugs known as opioids, which act on receptors in the brain important in regulating pain and emotion. Opioids have susceptibility for abuse and potential for overdose. In 2016, more than 42,000 of the nearly 64,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States involved opioids. Led by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50-100 times more potent than morphine, synthetic opioids emerged as the leading cause of opioid-related overdose deaths in 2016. The steep increase in deaths involving fentanyl...

Tax Expenditures: Before and After the 2017 Tax Revision (P.L. 115-97)

Tax reform debates, including the debate surrounding the 2017 tax revision (P.L. 115-97), often consider the option of broadening the tax base in exchange for a reduction in statutory tax rates. One means of base-broadening is reducing or eliminating “tax expenditures,” or revenue losses attributable to special provisions in the tax code. Policymakers also evaluate tax expenditures from a federal budgeting perspective, as tax expenditures may be viewed as “spending through the tax code.” Though P.L. 115-97 makes major changes to the U.S. federal tax system, in aggregate, the change in the...

The Role of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)

ONDCP Mission and Responsibilities

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is responsible for creating, implementing, and evaluating U.S. drug control policies to reduce the use, manufacturing, and trafficking of illicit drugs as well as drug-related health consequences, crime, and violence. ONDCP is located in the Executive Office of the President. It was created by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 and most recently reauthorized by the Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 2006. Authorization of appropriations for ONDCP expired at the end of FY2010, but...

Discharge Petitions and the House Discharge Rule

Recent media reports have discussed an effort by some Representatives to use a discharge petition to schedule a floor vote on a resolution (a “special rule”) providing for House consideration of immigration legislation under a "Queen-of-the-Hill" amendment structure. This Insight discusses the principal features of the House discharge rule and links to additional reading material on the subject.

The House discharge rule, clause 2 of Rule XV, establishes a parliamentary mechanism whereby 218 Members of the House of Representatives—a majority of the chamber—can bring a bill or resolution to...

Venezuela’s 2018 Presidential Elections

On May 20, 2018, Venezuela held presidential elections that were boycotted by the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition of opposition parties and dismissed as illegitimate by the United States, the European Union (EU), and 14 Western Hemisphere nations (the Lima Group). According to the official results, President Nicolás Maduro of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won reelection for a second six-year term with 67.7% of the vote amidst relatively high abstention (46% of voters participated). Maduro’s main opponent, Henri Falcón, former governor of Lara state, rejected...

Recent Legislative and Regulatory Developments in States’ Ability to Drug Test Unemployment Compensation Applicants and Beneficiaries

Federal law permits states to restrict an individual’s Unemployment Compensation (UC) benefit eligibility for certain circumstances related to the “fact or cause” of unemployment; this includes situations in which an individual was fired for drug use or refusing to take a drug test. Most states have specific disqualifications for drug-related job loss (see Table 5-8 in the hyperlink), including reporting to work under the influence of drugs/alcohol; violating the employer’s drug policy, including refusing to undergo drug or alcohol testing; or having tested positive for drugs or alcohol...

Malaysia’s First Democratic Change of Government

In a nationwide parliamentary election on May 9, Malaysia underwent its first democratic change of government since it gained independence in 1959. Voters elected a coalition, Pakatan Harapan (PH), led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. The coalition defeated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition led by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), a Malay-nationalist party that has dominated Malaysia’s politics since independence. Prime Minister Najib Razak, who had served since 2007, conceded the elections on May 10.

The election was a peaceful and democratic change of...

Credit Growth in the Current Expansion

Credit (debt) plays a crucial role in economic performance by funneling the funds of savers to borrowers. Up to a point, credit growth is necessary for healthy economic growth. But if credit grows too quickly, it can exacerbate economic instability by amplifying a financial boom and bust cycle. For example, the credit boom associated with the last decade’s housing bubble was followed by the 2007-2009 financial crisis, which featured a sharp contraction in credit that was both a cause and symptom of the Great Recession and the sluggish economic recovery that followed. As the economy has...

Regulating School Bus Safety

An estimated 25% of students ride school buses to school and school-related events annually. Nationwide, an average of six school bus passengers die each year in traffic crashes. School buses have the lowest death rate of any mode of transporting children to school in the United States. Yet incidents such as the fatal May 17 crash of a school bus and a dump truck in New Jersey may revive a debate about whether federal regulations could make school buses even safer. The National Transportation Safety Board is meeting on May 22 to consider a Special Investigation Report based on...

Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (S. 2155) and House Legislation: Common Issue Areas

The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (S. 2155) passed the Senate on March 14, 2018. The bill generally aims to provide regulatory relief to banks, relax mortgage lending and capital formation rules, and provide additional consumer financial protections. The bill addresses a number of policy issues that are also addressed by the Financial CHOICE Act (H.R. 10), which was passed by the House on June 8, 2017, and other House bills that have been passed by the House or otherwise seen legislative action in the 115th Congress. The table below matches the policy...

The Affordable Care Act (ACA): Notifying an Employer of a Potential Shared Responsibility Payment (ESRP)

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA; P.L. 111-148, as amended) requires that large employers either provide health coverage to full-time employees or face a potential assessment of an Employer Shared Responsibility Payment (ESRP). As explained in CRS Report R43981, The Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Employer Shared Responsibility Determination and the Potential Employer Penalty, this “employer penalty” may be assessed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) if at least one of employer’s full-time employees obtains a premium tax credit or cost-sharing reduction through a health...

CRS Products on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a free trade agreement among the United States, Canada, and Mexico that entered into force on January 1, 1994. NAFTA includes 8 parts consisting of 22 chapters and 2 side agreements. The main text of the agreement contains provisions on tariff and nontariff barrier elimination, customs procedures, energy, agriculture, technical barriers to trade, government procurement, foreign investments, services trade, temporary entry for business persons, intellectual property rights protection (IPR), and dispute resolution procedures. Two side...

Financial Regulation: The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (S. 2155)

The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (S. 2155) was passed by the Senate on March 14, 2018. The bill generally aims to provide regulatory relief to banks, relax mortgage lending rules, relax capital formation regulations, and provide additional consumer protections related to credit reporting and other areas. This Insight briefly highlights major policy proposals. For a more detailed examination, see CRS Report R45073, Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (S. 2155) and Selected Policy Issues, coordinated by David W. Perkins.

Some...

FDA to Consider Whether and How to Lower Permissible Nicotine Levels in Cigarettes

On March 15, 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) entitled Tobacco Product Standard for Nicotine Level of Combusted Cigarettes. FDA states that it is considering setting a maximum nicotine level for traditional (a.k.a. “combusted”) cigarettes in order to make them minimally addictive or nonaddictive. This notice begins what could be a complex, contentious, and multi-year process during which FDA will solicit public comments (the public comment period for the initial ANPRM will expire on June 14, 2018) and marry that...

Lebanon’s 2018 Elections

On May 6, 2018, Lebanon held its first legislative elections in nine years. The results showed that parties allied with Hezbollah increased their share of seats from roughly 44% to 53%. However, as in past Lebanese governments, rival parliamentary blocs will likely need to reach consensus in order to secure the passage of major policy initiatives.

The 128 seats in Lebanon’s parliament, known formally as the Chamber of Deputies, are divided evenly between Christians and Muslims. This reflects Lebanon’s broader political system in which power is divided among the country’s various religious...

Proposed CHIP Rescissions in the Trump Administration’s Rescission Request

On Tuesday, May 8, 2018, the Trump Administration submitted to Congress a proposal for 38 rescissions of budget authority, totaling $15.4 billion. In their transmission, the Office of Management and Budget stated that these rescissions were transmitted pursuant to Section 1012 of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 (2 U.S.C. 683). The proposal includes $7.0 billion in rescissions from the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which is a means-tested program that provides health coverage to targeted low-income children and pregnant women in families that...

Civic Upheaval in Armenia

After two weeks of political upheaval, Armenia has a new prime minister, Nikol Pashinian, a former opposition leader, parliamentary deputy, and journalist. Many observers believe this development has the potential to transform politics in Armenia, a small, landlocked Russian ally in the South Caucasus that also has enjoyed a history of U.S. and European support.

A Changing Political Landscape

On April 23, 2018, Serzh Sargsyan, Armenia’s president from 2008 to early April 2018, unexpectedly resigned from his new post as prime minister amid growing protests. The next week, the ruling...

National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Legislation in the 115th Congress

In the 115th Congress, two bills authorizing a National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System (NVEWS) have been reported out of committee (H.R. 4475, reported out of the House Natural Resources Committee and S. 346, reported out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee). Legislation nearly identical to S. 346 is included as Title X, Subtitle A, of S. 1460, the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017. (A hearing has been held on this bill.) The activities authorized in these bills include directing the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to establish a nationwide volcano early...

Is the U.S. Economy Growing Faster? Can It Grow Faster?

The current economic expansion has been characterized by slower economic growth than the preceding 10 expansions. At 2.2%, average annual growth in this expansion has been slower than in the preceding 10 expansions (see Figure 1). President Trump has pledged to increase growth to 3%, an increase of 0.8 percentage points. This Insight examines recent economic growth and factors that could foster or hinder a higher rate in the future.

Recent Economic Growth

Economic growth is the predominant measure of the change in material living standards. It is the increase in the production of goods and...

Trump-Abe Meeting and Prospects for U.S.-Japan Trade Talks

Overview

Since coming into office, the Trump Administration has expressed concerns about the U.S. trade deficit with Japan and an interest in talks on a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), a move Japan has resisted. On April 17-18, 2018, President Trump and Prime Minister Abe held a summit to discuss U.S.-Japan relations and regional security issues. Trade was a highly anticipated subject of the meeting.

Several recent trade developments posed an important backdrop to the meeting. In early March, Japan with 10 other countries, not including the United States, signed the Comprehensive...

Congressional Debate on FAA Reauthorization Charts New Legislative Path

On April 27, 2018, the House passed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 4), a six-year reauthorization measure that does not include a controversial proposal laid out in an earlier bill, H.R. 2997, to privatize air traffic control. The measure now proceeds to the Senate, where the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee ordered to be reported a four-year Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization (S. 1405) that does not address air traffic control privatization. Despite similarities, there are also differences in the two bills, including the length of...

Section 232 Steel and Aluminum Tariffs: Potential Economic Implications

On March 23, the United States began applying 25% and 10% tariffs, respectively, on certain steel and aluminum imports. The Administration has stated it is open to discussing terms for permanent exemptions from the tariffs for U.S. trading partners, based on addressing the perceived threat to national security. Pending such negotiations, U.S. imports of steel and aluminum from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, and the European Union were initially exempt from the tariffs until May 1. On April 30, the President extended for 30 days the temporary exemption from the...

Cuba After the Castros

As expected, Cuban President Raúl Castro stepped down from power on April 19, 2018, and the communist government’s 605-member National Assembly of People’s Power selected First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez as president of the Council of State. Pursuant to Cuba’s Constitution (Article 74), the president of the Council of State is also Cuba’s head of state and government. Castro, currently 86 years old, just finished his second five-year term as president. He will remain in his position as first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), which could give him continued...

Electric Reliability and Power System Resilience

Electricity is vital to the commerce and daily functioning of the United States. Nowhere has this been demonstrated more significantly than in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands where the effects of the widespread loss of electricity after Hurricane Maria are still being felt. Subsequently, there has been much discussion about electric system reliability, and how electric systems can improve resiliency. And while the effects were not as catastrophic, the impacts of the Bomb Cyclone in January 2018 caused some to question whether the increasing retirements of coal and nuclear power...

Establishment of Task Force on the U.S. Postal Service

On April 12, 2018, President Donald Trump established a task force on the U.S. Postal Service via Executive Order (EO) 13829. Under the EO, the task force must evaluate and provide a report on the following: the expansion and pricing of package delivery services; letter mail volume decline; the definition of the universal service obligation” (USO); the role of USPS in rural areas; and USPS’s business model and operations. This CRS Insight discusses the task force and the topics the task force is directed to address. It concludes with potential issues for congressional consideration....

White House Directs EPA to Review Air Quality Standards and Permitting Process

A new White House memorandum directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review and streamline Clean Air Act implementation. Its stated aims are to protect air quality “while reducing unnecessary impediments to new manufacturing and business expansion.”

Since 2011, congressional actions on air quality issues have centered on EPA’s regulatory authority, including EPA’s 2015 revision to ozone air quality standards. Two recent bills—H.R. 806 and S. 263—would, among other things, delay designation of areas not meeting the ozone standards and extend EPA’s review period for air...

OPEC and Non-OPEC Crude Oil Production Agreement: Compliance Status

On November 30, 2016—in an effort to stabilize declining oil prices—the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced an agreement whereby 11 of the then-active 13 members would reduce crude oil production by approximately 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) for 6 months starting January 1, 2017. On December 10, 2016, OPEC announced that 11 non-OPEC countries, led by Russia, had joined the agreement by pledging to further reduce oil production by 558,000 bpd. This “Declaration of Cooperation” to collectively reduce oil production by approximately 1.7 million bpd has been...

Australia, China, and the Indo-Pacific

Recent debate in Australia on regional strategic challenges has focused on China’s rising influence, the durability of the U.S.-Australian alliance, and how Australia should respond and position itself relative to related changes in Indo-Pacific power dynamics. This debate is framed by increasing concern in Australia about the influence of China and those who promote its interests, despite the fact that China remains a key economic and trade partner. Australia’s outlook is also affected by uncertainty about the Trump Administration’s transactional approach to the alliance with Australia...

The Orderly Liquidation Authority: Reform Proposals

The Orderly Liquidation Authority (OLA) was created by Title II of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (P.L. 111-203; Dodd-Frank) to allow the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to resolve certain failing financial institutions whose collapse could threaten the stability of the financial system. Although OLA has never been used, it has become the subject of a number of reform proposals. This Insight briefly describes the OLA and two prominent examples of such proposals.

Overview

A failed company (banks and insurance companies are notable exceptions) will...

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), Reinsurance, and Catastrophe Bonds

Insurance generally serves to transfer risk from one entity who does not want to bear that risk to another entity that does. An initial insurance purchase, such as homeowners buying a policy to cover damage to their home, however, is often only the first transfer of that risk. The initial (or primary) insurer may then transfer (or cede) some or all of this risk to another company or investor, such as a reinsurer. Such risk transfers are, on the whole, a net cost for primary insurers, just as purchasing insurance is a net cost for homeowners.

The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act...

OMB and Treasury Agree on Process for Issuing New Tax Rules

UPDATE: On April 12, 2018, the Department of the Treasury and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced that they reached an agreement on the issue of OIRA review of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules. The two agencies signed a new memorandum of agreement (MOA), under which OIRA will review certain significant tax regulations under a specified time limit—generally, not longer than 45 days, but with the potential for an expedited review of up to 10 business days. In addition, within one year after the date of the...

Balanced Budget Amendments

A balanced budget amendment (BBA) proposes to amend the U.S. Constitution to require that “outlays shall not exceed revenues.” Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote of approval in both houses of Congress as well as ratification by three-fourths of the states.

Common Components of BBAs

Proposed BBAs have historically included additional provisions that may be as contentious as the requirement that outlays not exceed revenues. Such provisions are summarized below.

Supermajority vote threshold for permitting outlays to exceed receipts. These provisions typically require a...

Business Investment Spending Slowdown

Business capital investment spending is composed of private spending on nonresidential structures (e.g., factories), equipment (e.g., machinery), and intellectual property products (e.g., software). Business investment is a key determinant of economic growth. When businesses add to the capital stock, the value of goods and services (i.e., gross domestic product [GDP]) the economy can produce increases. One reason that economic growth has been lower in the last decade is because business investment spending has grown more slowly. Boosting investment spending was one of the key goals of the...

Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis: Recent Developments and Issues for Congress

Tensions have grown in western Cameroon since the government’s suppression of a protest movement led by members of the country’s minority Anglophone community in late 2016. In 2017, the situation escalated as one Anglophone faction symbolically declared the secession of the region and some Anglophone groups took up arms. While granting minor concessions, the government has arrested dozens of activists and deployed the military to put down unrest. The crisis has heightened historic fissures in Cameroon’s diverse society and adds to the country’s political and security challenges. (See CRS...

Data, Social Media, and Users: Can We All Get Along?

Introduction

In March 2018, media reported that voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica had exceeded Facebook’s data use policies by collecting data on millions of Facebook users. Cambridge Analytica did this by working with a researcher to gain access to the data, so the company itself was not the entity seeking access to the information. This allowed Cambridge Analytica to “scrape” or download data from users who had granted access to their profiles, as well as those users’ Facebook friends (whose profiles the first user had access to, but for which the friends did not authorize...

China’s Retaliatory Tariffs on Selected U.S. Agricultural Products

On April 2, 2018, the Chinese government implemented retaliatory tariffs on 128 product lines, including 93 U.S. agricultural products, in response to recent U.S. Section 232 tariff actions on certain imports of steel and aluminum products. China is the second largest market for U.S. agricultural exports by value, worth about $19.6 billion in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). China estimates the targeted U.S. imports are worth roughly $3 billion across all product categories, of which about two-thirds of the value is agricultural products.

China imposed an...

Employee Ownership of Registration-Exempt Company Securities: Proposals to Reform Required Corporate Disclosures (Section 507 of S. 2155, S. 488, H.R. 1343, and Section 406 of H.R. 10)

Introduction

A major statutory mission of the SEC is investor protection, which involves requiring companies that offer securities to the public to disclose meaningful financial and other information about themselves to both existing and potential investors. To that end, under the Securities Act of 1933 (the Securities Act), a company that offers or sells its securities to the public is required to register them with the SEC. This securities registration process requires that the company that is issuing the securities disclose key facts, including a description of the company’s assets and...

Regulating the U.S. Campaign Environment: Politics and Policy

Introduction

Members of Congress run campaigns as candidates and regulate them as policymakers. Recent coverage of Cambridge Analytica voter-targeting using Facebook data is one of the latest examples of the connection between campaign conduct and public policy. Reports suggest that this case involves consumer-privacy questions that are normally beyond campaign regulation, and questions about whether foreign nationals were impermissibly involved in campaign decisionmaking—a topic well within campaign finance regulation. In other recent examples, reports of foreign interference in the 2016...

Venture Capital Funds: Proposals to Expand Investor Thresholds Required for Registration (Section 504 of S. 2155, Section 471 of H.R. 10, H.R. 1219, S. 444, and Section 914 of H.R. 3280)

Introduction

To help restore confidence in the securities markets after the stock market crash of 1929, Congress passed the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which authorized the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC is an independent, nonpartisan regulatory agency responsible for administering federal securities laws. It has broad regulatory authority over significant parts of the securities industry, including stock exchanges, mutual funds, investment advisers, and brokerage firms.

Among the major federal securities statutes that the SEC enforces is the...

S. 2155 and Enhanced Regulation for Large Banks

Title I of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act (12 U.S.C. Ch. 53.) imposed a number of enhanced prudential regulatory requirements for bank holding companies and foreign banks operating in the United States with more than $10 billion or $50 billion in assets, depending on the requirements. These requirements were primarily intended to reduce the systemic risk posed by large financial institutions, which was a major feature of the 2007-2009 financial crisis. Section 401 of S. 2155, which the Senate passed on March 14, 2018, would raise the asset threshold at which these requirements are applied to...

Joint Resolution Seeks to End U.S. Support for Saudi-led Coalition Military Operations in Yemen

In February 2018, Senators Sanders, Lee, and Murphy introduced S.J.Res. 54, a joint resolution that would direct the President to remove U.S. forces from “hostilities in or affecting” Yemen (except for those U.S. forces engaged in counterterrorism operations directed at al Qaeda or associated forces). Since March 2015, the U.S. military has supported military operations in Yemen by a coalition of countries led by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). The coalition operations, including airstrikes, have supported a broader campaign to reinstate the internationally recognized government of...

Eight Mechanisms to Enact Procedural Change in the U.S. Senate

Recently, individuals both inside and outside of Congress have called for an examination of the U.S. Senate’s procedural rules with an eye toward changing them. This Insight highlights eight parliamentary mechanisms that might be used to implement procedural change in the Senate and links to additional reading material on the subject.

The work of the U.S. Senate is regulated not just by its 44 standing rules but by multiple, sometimes overlapping, procedural authorities. At any given time, unanimous consent agreements, standing orders, statute, precedent, and provisions of the U.S....

Changing FERC Policies for Gas Pipelines?

Introduction

On December 21, 2017, the newly appointed chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) announced that the commission would undertake a review of its permitting policies and procedures for interstate natural gas pipelines. The U.S. natural gas pipeline network has expanded rapidly to accommodate new supplies of domestic shale gas. That expansion has prompted numerous congressional hearings and legislative proposals related to pipeline development. The review of FERC’s permitting policies may provide stakeholders a new opportunity to influence how the commission...

Arming Teachers as a Response to School Shootings

In the wake of the February 14, 2018, shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, President Trump endorsed a proposal to arm teachers as a way to potentially thwart school shootings. The President’s endorsement has generated debate about whether this policy option would make schools safer.

Proponents argue that arming educators provides a deterrent effect and that armed teachers could respond to an active shooter quicker than police. Opponents argue that teachers do not want the responsibility of countering active shooters; they raise questions about whether teachers can...

Russia’s 2018 Presidential Election

Russia’s next presidential election is scheduled for March 18, 2018, the fourth anniversary of Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has served as president or prime minister of Russia for over 18 years, is widely expected to secure reelection easily against seven other candidates, especially given the government’s tight control over the country’s political process. With presidential terms in Russia lasting six years, victory could keep Putin in office until at least 2024.

Promoting Putin

Russia’s presidential election is only...

The President Acts to Impose Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum Imports

On March 8, 2018, President Trump issued proclamations imposing duties on U.S. imports of steel and aluminum, based on the Secretary of Commerce’s finding that these articles are being imported into the United States in such quantities and under such circumstances as to threaten to impair the national security of the United States. The President acted under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 (19 U.S.C. §1862, as amended). The proclamations outline the President’s decisions to impose tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum imports effective March 23, 2018. The President...

Northern Ireland, Brexit, and the Irish Border

As the 20th anniversary of the April 1998 peace accord for Northern Ireland (known as the Good Friday Agreement or the Belfast Agreement) approaches, concerns are increasing about how the expected exit of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU)—or “Brexit”—might affect Northern Ireland. The future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has become a central issue in the UK’s withdrawal negotiations with the EU. Once the UK ceases to be a member of the EU—likely in March 2019—Northern Ireland will be the only part of the UK to share a land border with...

TPP Countries Sign New CPTPP Agreement without U.S. Participation

On March 8, 2018, the 11 remaining signatories of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, excluding the United States, signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The CPTPP parties announced the outlines of the agreement in November 2017 and concluded the negotiations in January 2018. The CPTPP, which requires ratification by 6 of the 11 signatories to become effective, would be a vehicle to enact much of the TPP, signed by these countries and the United States in February 2016 and from which President Trump withdrew in January 2017. The...

Election in Italy

More than half of voters in Italy’s March 4, 2018, parliamentary election supported political parties considered antiestablishment or outside the mainstream. Since no party or political group won a majority of seats in parliament, the top vote-getters will now negotiate to form a governing coalition. This is expected to be a drawn-out process that could end in stalemate and possibly new elections. Furthermore, the empowerment of so-called populist parties could have significant implications for the European Union (EU), NATO, and the United States.

Election Results

A center-right alliance...

Financial Regulation: FY2018 Appropriations and the Financial CHOICE Act (H.R. 10)

Background

On September 14, 2017, the House passed H.R. 3354, which included the FY2018 Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Appropriations bill in Division D. The Senate Appropriations Committee released an FY2018 FSGG chairmen’s mark on November 20, 2017, but further action has yet to occur on the bill. Much of the federal government, including agencies covered by FSGG appropriations, has been operating for the first part of FY2018 under successive continuing resolutions (P.L. 115-56, P.L. 115-90, P.L. 115-96, P.L. 115-120, and P.L. 115-123), now effective through March 23,...

Commerce Determines Steel and Aluminum Imports Threaten to Impair National Security

The U.S. Department of Commerce (Commerce) recently completed two investigations into the national security threats posed by imports of steel and aluminum in accordance with Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 (19 U.S.C. §1862, as amended). In April 2017, two presidential memoranda instructed Commerce to prioritize the steel and aluminum investigations. The final reports, submitted to the President on January 11 and January 22, 2018, respectively, concluded imports of steel mill products and of wrought and unwrought aluminum “threaten to impair the national security” of the...

Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean Focus on the Politics of Energy

Cypriot (Greek and Turkish) interest in energy exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean began in 1998 after Noble Energy, a Texas-based energy company, discovered a large natural gas deposit in the Levant Basin. The location is in waters considered part of Israel’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) but bordering parts of the Republic of Cyprus’s (RoC’s) EEZ. In 2007, the RoC granted Noble Energy a license to explore for gas in an area identified as block 12, or the “Aphrodite” field within its EEZ. In 2011, Noble Energy announced the discovery of natural gas in block 12. Subsequently, the RoC...

Expired Tax Provisions and “Tax Extenders”

Revenue measures enacted as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA2018, P.L. 115-123) extended a number of temporary tax provisions that had expired in 2016 or 2017. In the wake of the 2017 tax revision (P.L. 115-97), Congress has indicated an interest in evaluating expired temporary tax provisions or “tax extenders.”

Table 1 provides information on temporary tax provisions and “tax extenders.” Specifically, the table includes (1) all provisions that expired in 2016 and 2017 and were not addressed in the 2017 tax revision (P.L. 115-97); (2) information on provisions that were...

FY2019 Budget: Government Reorganization and Federal Workforce Reform

The Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2019 stated, in a largely general way, planned initiatives related to government reorganization and federal workforce reform. The initiatives follow from Executive Order 13781, “Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch,” issued by President Donald Trump on March 13, 2017, and two Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memorandums. The memorandums, M-17-22, “Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce,” issued on April 12, 2017, and M-17-28, “Fiscal Year (FY) 2019...

“Extraordinary Measures” and the Debt Limit

Following a period of suspension, the statutory debt limit was reinstated on December 9, 2017, at a level that precisely accommodated the federal borrowing undertaken to that date. On December 11 and 12, 2017, Secretary Mnuchin announced that the Treasury would implement “extraordinary measures” that delay when the debt limit will bind. Additionally, the Bureau of the Fiscal Service suspended sales of certain Treasury securities to extend the Treasury’s ability to meet statutory spending requirements without defaulting on its debt obligations. These measures were used until passage of the...

The Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) Program: Increased Funding and Policy Changes in BBA2018

Teaching health centers (THCs) are outpatient facilities that receive federal funds directly to train medical and dental residents. These facilities are operated by federal health centers, rural health clinics, and tribal health programs, among others. THCs typically provide care to low-income and otherwise underserved populations and are generally located in federally designated health professional shortage areas (HPSAs). The federal government created the teaching health center graduate medical education program (THCGME) in 2010 to pay THCs for the expenses they incur when training...

Discretionary Spending Levels Under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018

On February 9, 2018, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA 2018) was signed into law as P.L. 115-123. Among other things, it raised the discretionary spending caps for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 originally implemented by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA; P.L. 112-25). BBA 2018 reverses $80 billion of the $97 billion of discretionary spending cuts enacted by the BCA as amended for FY2018.

The BCA and Discretionary Spending

The BCA affected discretionary spending in two ways: (1) caps on discretionary budget authority, divided between defense and nondefense programs, which went into...

Has the Economy Reached Full Employment? If So, Will It Stay There?

The unemployment rate has fallen from 10% in 2009 to 4.1% today, its lowest since 2000. Several other labor market indicators also point to an economy at or near full employment. If unemployment gets too low, it could plant the seeds for a future recession. An overheating economy can temporarily surge past full employment, but a recession typically follows to restore labor market equilibrium. Fiscal and monetary policy can help avoid—or exacerbate—overheating.

What Is Full Employment?

The economy has achieved full employment when it reaches the lowest sustainable unemployment rate...

Administration’s Infrastructure Program Emphasizes New Nonfederal Revenue

The Trump Administration’s legislative outline for infrastructure, released on February 12, 2018, proposes a new “Infrastructure Incentives Program” to make grants to state and local governments. This would be the largest single piece of the Administration plan in terms of dedicated federal funding, with an allotment of half of the $200 billion the Administration proposes to spend on infrastructure over 10 years. The grants could be used for transportation, water resources, drinking water, and wastewater, as well as for cleanup of Superfund sites. This Insight focuses on the potential of...

Two-Year Extension of the Community Health Center Fund

The Affordable Care Act (ACA, P.L. 111-148, as amended), enacted in 2010, appropriated billions of dollars of mandatory funds to support two programs that focus on expanding access to primary care services for populations that are typically underserved: the Health Centers program and the National Health Service Corps (NHSC).

The Health Centers and NHSC programs are cornerstones of the federal government’s efforts to expand access to primary care. The Health Centers program helps support more than 1,400 community-based health centers operating more than 10,400 delivery sites across the...

Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA)

The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) was enacted as part of Division E of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (H.R. 1892). Among other changes, FFPSA expands federal support for services to prevent the need for children to enter foster care, while adding new restrictions on federal room and board support for some foster children placed in group care settings. With limited exceptions, the enacted provisions match the standalone FFPSA provisions approved by the House in June 2016 (H.R. 5456, 114th Congress).

New Support for Prevention of Foster Care

FFPSA responds to longstanding...

Federal Reserved Water Rights and Groundwater: Quantity, Quality, and Pore Space

Tribal rights to groundwater have not been legally established to the same extent as rights to other natural resources (e.g., surface water, timber, minerals). A March 2017 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the rights of a California Indian tribe (the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians) to groundwater beneath the tribe’s reservation in the Coachella Valley. In November 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the decision; the case now proceeds to other phases that may partially shape this ruling’s significance.

This is the first case in which...

Section 201 Safeguards on Solar Products and Washing Machines

On January 23, 2018, President Trump announced that he would impose additional tariffs on imports of large residential washing machines and solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules, effective February 7, 2018. The President acted based on findings by the International Trade Commission (ITC) that increased U.S. imports of these products were a “substantial cause of serious injury” to U.S. manufacturers, as a result of investigations under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974 (19 U.S.C. §2251, as amended). When initiating the actions on January 23, the President said, “My administration is...

The 2018 National Defense Strategy

On January 19, 2018, Secretary of Defense Mattis released the unclassified summary of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) first congressionally mandated National Defense Strategy (NDS). In addition to stating DOD’s approach to contending with current and emerging national security challenges, the NDS is also intended to articulate the overall strategic rationale for programs and priorities contained within the FY2019-FY2023 budget requests. Overall, the document maintains that the strategic environment in which the United States must operate is one characterized by the erosion of the...

New Nuclear Warheads: Legislative Provisions

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) identifies a plan to “modify a small number of [submarine-launched ballistic missile] warheads to provide a low-yield option” so that the United States could respond promptly and penetrate an adversary’s defenses after a nuclear attack. The NPR contends that this capability would strengthen nuclear deterrence, while critics argue it would lower the nuclear threshold and increase the risk of nuclear war.

This Insight reviews legislation addressing research and development on new or low-yield nuclear weapons and notes that under current law, an...

What Causes a Recession?

At 104 months, the current economic expansion is already the third longest on record, and it will equal the second longest if it persists until April. This expansion, like all previous ones, will eventually end and be followed by a recession. Few economists are forecasting a recession in 2018, but recessions are notoriously hard to predict even a few months beforehand. For background, see CRS In Focus IF10411, Introduction to U.S. Economy: The Business Cycle and Growth, by Jeffrey M. Stupak.

As can be seen in Figure 1, previous expansions vary greatly in length but have recently been...

Trespassing: The Leading Cause of Rail-Related Fatalities

Train derailments or collisions are often well-publicized events and receive significant attention from policymakers seeking to reduce their reoccurrence. Less attention has been devoted to trespassing, although it is a much greater cause of rail-related fatalities than derailments and collisions combined. Since 2005, over three-fifths of deaths in rail incidents have been pedestrian trespassers, and vehicle-train accidents at railroad grade crossings account for nearly one-third (see Figure 1; note that the trespassing deaths in the figure do not include suicides).

Figure 1. Rail-Related...

The Balkans and Russia

Following the end of the Balkan wars in the 1990s, periods of stability allowed several of the nations of Southeast Europe to pursue reforms, incorporate Western values, and join the European Union (EU) and NATO. Recently, however, the Western Balkans have experienced various degrees of political instability involving elements of nationalist politics, stagnating economies, public frustration over corruption, ethnic tensions, and violence. Although some of the tension has receded, many observers remain concerned that the region’s stability could unravel again. For some, at the core of this...

Gun Control: Concealed Carry Legislation in the 115th Congress

On December 6, 2017, the House of Representatives passed the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 (H.R. 38). The term “concealed carry” is commonly used to refer to state laws that allow an individual to carry a weapon—generally a handgun—on one’s person in a concealed manner for the purposes of self-defense in public (outside one’s home or fixed place of business). Federal law allows certain active-duty and retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed firearms interstate, irrespective of some state laws, but they must first be qualified and credentialed by their agencies of...

Administration’s Syria Policy Envisions Continued U.S. Presence

On January 17, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the Trump Administration’s policy for U.S. involvement in Syria. The Secretary’s remarks built upon previous testimony by Acting Assistant Secretary David Satterfield and were further elaborated in a briefing by a senior State Department official.

U.S. Goals for Syria

According to Secretary Tillerson, “the United States desires five key end states for Syria”:

The enduring defeat of the Islamic State (IS, aka ISIS/ISIL) and Al Qaeda. This includes ensuring that the groups do not present a threat to the United States, and do not...

What Share of Taxpayers Would See a Tax Decrease or a Tax Increase Under the 2017 Tax Revision, P.L. 115-97?

An analysis of the major provisions of the 2017 tax revision, P.L. 115-97, by the Tax Policy Center (TPC) indicates that the legislation would result in some taxpayers paying more in taxes, some paying less in taxes, and some seeing little or no change in their tax liability. Similar analysis done by the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) examined the impact of the Senate bill before conference, finding generally similar trends. However, an updated JCT analysis has not been done for the final law. In addition, the definitions of income and tax increase and decrease used by JCT differ from...

U.S. Postal Service Governors: And Then There Were None

Background: U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors

The Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service (hereinafter, the Board) was created by a provision of the Postal Reorganization Act in 1970 (PRA, 39 U.S.C. §202). The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) describes the Board as “comparable to a board of directors of a private corporation.” Guided by statute and its bylaws, the Board “directs the exercise of the powers of the Postal Service, reviews the practices and policies of the Postal Service, and directs and controls the expenditures of the Postal Service.”

The Board is composed of 11...

Transatlantic Relations in 2018

As the second year of the Trump Administration begins, a degree of uncertainty lingers over transatlantic relations. The U.S.-European partnership could face challenges in 2018. Following the election of President Trump, numerous European officials and analysts expressed concern about the future trajectory of U.S.-European relations, particularly the U.S. commitment to NATO, the European Union (EU), and the multilateral trading system. Although the Trump Administration has not altered or withdrawn from the fundamental aspects of the transatlantic relationship, many European leaders appear...

P.L. 115-97: Net Operating Losses

The 2017 tax revision (P.L. 115-97) enacted on December 22, 2017, made significant changes to the federal tax system, including changes to the tax treatment of business net operating losses (NOLs). This Insight provides an overview of the tax treatment of NOLs that existed before the enactment of P.L. 115-97 and the treatment of losses going forward as a result of the 2017 revision.

What Is an NOL?

A business incurs an NOL when its deductions exceed its gross income, or, put differently, when a business’s taxable income is negative. The year in which the NOL is realized is referred to as...

P.L. 115-97: The Mortgage Interest Deduction

P.L. 115-97, the 2017 tax revision, was enacted on December 22, 2017. The law makes significant changes to the federal tax system, including to the mortgage interest deduction. This Insight briefly explains the 2017 law governing the mortgage interest deduction and the modifications made to the deduction by P.L. 115-97.

2017 Law

For the 2017 tax year, a homeowner may deduct the interest paid on a mortgage that finances the acquisition of a primary or secondary residence as long as the homeowner itemizes their tax deductions. The amount of interest that may be deducted is limited to the...

Policy Options to Increase Physician Training Education in Proper Opioid Prescribing

Among the recommendations of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis (President’s Commission) is to mandate “medical education and prescriber education initiatives in proper opioid prescribing and risks of developing an SUD [Substance Use Disorder].”

This Insight focuses on physician efforts because physicians can prescribe in every state but not all states permit advanced practice nurses or physician assistants to prescribe opioids. Many of the policy options discussed in this Insight could also be applied to other provider types (e.g., nonphysicians)...

Floodplain Management and Flood Resilience: Current Policy and Considerations for Congress

An issue for Congress is how federal floodplain policy shapes implementation of federal projects and programs. Floodplain policy has particular relevance for federal disaster recovery assistance and infrastructure support. President Trump and, earlier, Presidents Obama and Carter have provided direction on federal floodplain policy. This Insight describes this presidential direction and presents considerations for Congress.

Presidential Direction and Current Policy

Three executive orders (E.O.s) are directly relevant to current federal floodplain policy:

E.O. 13807 (Trump, 2017),...

Supplemental Appropriations Proposed for Agriculture

Crop and livestock losses from the 2017 hurricane season and wildfires in the West have created a demand for agricultural disaster assistance. To date, Congress has enacted two supplemental appropriations, but neither included funding for agricultural-related losses.

On November 17, 2017, the Administration made a third supplemental appropriations request. Overall, it included $44 billion of additional appropriations, offset by $59 billion of reductions. For analysis of the request see CRS Insight IN10832, Proposed Offsets Exceed Spending for Agriculture in the Administration’s Disaster...

The 2017 National Security Strategy: Issues for Congress

On December 18, 2017, the Trump Administration released its first National Security Strategy (NSS). The document maintains that, in addition to the threats posed to the United States by rogue regimes and violent extremist organizations that have been a central focus of national security policy since the end of the Cold War, great power rivalry and competition have once again become a central feature of the international security landscape. To advance U.S. interests effectively within this strategic context, the Administration argues, the United States must improve domestic American...

The Deduction for Out-of-Pocket Teacher Expenses

While both the House and Senate tax reform proposals proposed changing the above-the-line deduction for out-of-pocket teacher expenses, the Conference Report to accompany H.R. 1 ultimately retains the current law deduction. The House proposal, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1), would have repealed the deduction. In contrast, the Senate proposal would have temporarily increased the deduction to $500, through 2025. The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimated that repealing the deduction (the House proposal) would have increased revenues by $2.1 billion between 2018 and 2027, while...

Contested Elections in Honduras

Honduras has descended into political crisis in the aftermath of disputed elections held on November 26, 2017. On election night, with 57% of the vote counted, Salvador Nasralla, a television personality and sports commentator backed by the left-leaning Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship, held a five-point lead over incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández of the conservative National Party (PN). Hernández edged ahead of Nasralla several days later, however, after the country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) belatedly processed the outstanding votes. The Opposition Alliance...

Short-Term FAA Extension in Place, but Legislative Debate Continues

Both the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation acted favorably on bills to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other aviation programs in June 2017. The two bills, H.R. 2997 and S. 1405, have significant differences, many of them related to provisions in the House bill that would create a not-for-profit private corporation to take over responsibility for running the national air traffic control system. The Senate bill contains no similar provisions, and the passage of long-term...

What Share of Taxpayers Would See a Tax Increase or a Tax Decrease Under a Senate Version of the Tax Reform Bill?

An analysis of the Senate Finance Committee-approved tax reform bill by the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) indicates that the legislation would result in some taxpayers paying more in taxes, some paying less in taxes, and some seeing little or no change in their tax liability. JCT’s analysis, dated November 27, 2017, was conducted before the Senate passed H.R. 1 with an amendment on December 2, 2017. While the analysis was provided to the Washington Post and others, it has not been posted on JCT’s website.

As illustrated in Figure 1, JCT estimates that in 2019,

the majority of the...

The $50 Billion Threshold in the Dodd-Frank Act: Key Findings

This Insight presents the key findings from the newly issued CRS Report R45036, Bank Systemic Risk Regulation: The $50 Billion Threshold in the Dodd-Frank Act.

Background

The 2007-2009 financial crisis highlighted the problem of “too big to fail” (TBTF) financial institutions—the concept that the failure of a large financial firm could trigger financial instability, which in several cases prompted extraordinary federal assistance to prevent their failure. One pillar of the Dodd-Frank Act’s (P.L. 111-203’s) response to addressing financial stability and ending TBTF was a new enhanced...

Taylor Force Act: Palestinian Terrorism-Related Payments and U.S. Aid

Some Members of Congress have increased their scrutiny of the Palestinian practice of providing payments to some Palestinians (and/or their families) who have been imprisoned for or accused of terrorism by Israel. Critics have asserted that because money is fungible, any aid that directly benefits the Palestinian Authority (PA) could indirectly support such payments. Congress may consider legislation—most of the bills are known as the Taylor Force Act—that could supersede existing provisions on the subject in annual appropriations legislation. The impact that the legislation could have on...

Medicare Temporary Payment Adjustments for Ground Ambulance Scheduled to Expire

Medicare Part B pays ambulance suppliers and providers for services and mileage under the Ambulance Fee Schedule (AFS). Congress established, through the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (P.L. 108-173), three temporary payment adjustments for ground ambulance transports. These temporary adjustments, among other AFS adjustments, are determined by the zip code where the patient is picked up; every zip code in the United States is eligible for at least one of the three temporary payment adjustments. Since enactment, Congress has modified and extended...

Jerusalem: U.S. Recognition as Israel’s Capital and Planned Embassy Move

Via a presidential document that he signed after a speech on December 6, 2017, President Trump proclaimed “that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and that the United States Embassy to Israel will be relocated [from Tel Aviv] to Jerusalem as soon as practicable.” A December deadline for a presidential decision under the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 (P.L. 104-45) and plans for Vice President Pence to travel to the region apparently precipitated the timing of the President’s decision.

Despite his proclamation on the planned embassy relocation, the...

Natural Disasters of 2017: Congressional Considerations Related to FEMA Assistance

This Insight provides a short overview of issues Congress may consider in its oversight of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) federal assistance during the 2017 hurricane season (e.g., Harvey, Irma, and Maria) and other disasters (e.g., fires in California). For the current status of response efforts, see official government sources and news media. For additional support, please contact CRS experts.

Stafford Act Declarations and Response

Under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the Stafford Act), the President may declare an emergency or...

FEMA’s Firefighter Assistance Grants: Reauthorization or Sunset?

Under current law (15 U.S.C. 2229(r) and 15 U.S.C. 2229a(k)), sunset provisions for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) programs will go into effect on January 2, 2018, unless the 115th Congress enacts AFG and SAFER reauthorization legislation. On August 2, 2017, the Senate passed the AFG and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017 (S. 829) by unanimous consent. S. 829 would repeal the sunset provisions for AFG and SAFER, as well as reauthorize appropriations for both programs through FY2023. The House has not...

Supplemental Appropriations and the 2017 Hurricane Season

The 2017 hurricane season was the fifth-most active on record in the Atlantic Basin, in terms of accumulated storm strength. Four named storms made landfall on U.S. soil from mid-August to mid-October, causing extensive damage. Concurrently, a series of deadly wildfires struck California.

Enacted 2017 Hurricane Season Supplemental Appropriations

Congress has passed two supplemental appropriations bills in response to Administration requests made in September and October 2017 in the wake of these incidents. Table 1 outlines the two requests and enacted appropriations.

Table 1. Enacted...

Proposed Offsets Exceed Spending for Agriculture in the Administration’s Disaster Assistance Request

On November 17, 2017, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released the Administration’s request for a third round of supplemental funding in response to natural disasters in 2017. The total request includes $44 billion of additional appropriations for disasters during 2017, offset by $59 billion of reductions to budget authority for previous appropriations ($15 billion) and a two-year extension of sequestration on mandatory spending ($44 billion) from FY2025 to FY2027.

Accounts in the jurisdiction of Agriculture appropriations would receive an additional of $992 million for...

Third Treasury Report on Regulatory Relief: Asset Management and Insurance

On October 26, 2017, the Department of the Treasury issued a report, “A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities: Asset Management and Insurance,” which examines the regulation of those industries. It is the third in a series of reports written in accordance with Executive Order 13772 issued by President Donald Trump on February 3, 2017, which directs the Secretary of the Treasury to report on how the financial system is regulated and how regulation could be improved.

The report examines asset management and insurance and makes recommendations for changes to how they are...

Iran’s Expanding Economic Relations with Asia

Overview

Since multilateral sanctions on Iran were lifted in January 2016 under the Iran nuclear agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA), foreign firms have begun to resume business with Iran. Iranian leaders seem to be counting on expanded economic ties with the major East Asian economies to help Iran emerge from the years of international sanctions, diversify its economy away from reliance on hydrocarbon products, and become a regional trading hub. Expanding ties with Asia is politically easy for Iran because the major Asian countries remained engaged in Iran’s economy even...

Zimbabwe’s Political Transition: Issues for Congress

In mid-November 2017, spurred by an intraparty rivalry within the ruling Zimbabwe National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party to succeed then-President Robert Mugabe (age 93), the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) seized control of key national political and military facilities. The ZDF then reportedly pressed Mugabe—head of state since independence in 1980—to resign, reverse his recent dismissal of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa in favor of Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe, and halt a ZANU-PF purge of Mnangagwa’s supporters. (See CRS Insight IN10819, Zimbabwe: A Military-Compelled...

The Opioid Epidemic and the Labor Force

Some Members have expressed strong concerns about the societal costs of the opioid epidemic, including its potential to adversely affect the U.S. economy. Efforts to quantify the annual economic costs of opioid abuse and dependence return estimates in the tens of billions, of which workforce losses—decreased productivity, missed days of work, and premature death—account for a substantial share. Opioid abuse could further generate labor force costs—directly or indirectly—if it affects labor force participation decisions and unemployment. A small body of research has explored and identified...

Egypt: Terrorist Attack in the Sinai Peninsula

Background

Terrorists based in the Sinai Peninsula have been waging an insurgency against the Egyptian government for more than six years. While the terrorist landscape in Egypt is evolving and encompasses several groups, Sinai Province (SP) is known as the most lethal. Since its affiliation with the Islamic State in 2014, SP has attacked the Egyptian military continually, targeted Coptic Christian individuals and places of worship, and occasionally fired rockets into Israel. In October 2015, SP targeted Russian tourists departing the Sinai by allegedly planting a bomb aboard Metrojet...

Volcano and Landslide Provisions in Title X of S. 1460, the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017

Title X of S. 1460 would authorize a national volcano early warning and monitoring system (Subtitle A) and a National Landslide Hazards Reduction Program (Subtitle B) within the Department of the Interior (DOI). These activities would be led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a bureau within DOI.

Volcanoes

The USGS has indicated that progressively implementing a national volcano early warning system (NVEWS) to address a monitoring gap within its Volcano Hazards Program (funding level of $26 million in FY2017) has been a priority since 2005. In its FY2018 budget justification, however,...

Keystone XL Pipeline: Recent Developments

Introduction

TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL Pipeline would transport oil sands crude from Canada and shale oil produced in the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana to a market hub in Nebraska (Figure 1). On November 20, 2017, the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) approved the “alternative mainline” route for the Nebraska segment of Keystone XL which would co-locate some of the new pipeline with the company’s existing Keystone (Mainline) Pipeline. This route differs from the siting that TransCanada originally proposed (Figure 2, “preferred route”). Due to the PSC’s decision,...

The Distribution of the Tax Policy Changes in H.R. 1 and the Senate’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

Distributional analysis can be used to illustrate how changes in tax policy would affect the economic well-being of taxpayers. The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) regularly prepares distributional analyses of major tax proposals. On November 14, 2017, the JCT released a distributional analysis of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1). H.R. 1 passed a vote in the House on November 16, 2017. The JCT has also released a distributional analysis of the Senate’s version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

When the goal of distributional analysis is to look at taxpayers’ economic well-being, one useful...

Tax Incentives for Charitable Giving in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1)

Provisions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) would decrease the tax incentive for charitable giving. Under current law, taxpayers itemizing deductions can deduct contributions made to charitable organizations. Generally, the deduction is limited to 50% of adjusted gross income (AGI), although there are lower AGI limits for certain types of non-cash gifts and for gifts to certain types of recipient organizations.

H.R. 1 would decrease the tax incentive for charitable giving by substantially reducing the number of taxpayers itemizing deductions. Specifically, the standard deduction...

OPEC and Non-OPEC Crude Oil Production Agreement: Compliance Status

On November 30, 2016—in an effort to stabilize declining oil prices—the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced an agreement whereby 11 of the then-active 13 members would reduce crude oil production by approximately 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) for 6 months starting January 1, 2017. On December 10, 2016, OPEC announced that 11 non-OPEC countries, led by Russia, had joined the agreement by pledging to further reduce oil production by 558,000 bpd. This “Declaration of Cooperation” to collectively reduce oil production by approximately 1.8 million bpd was...

Contracting the Adversary

With the military services looking to alleviate shortages of pilots and publicly admitting shortages in readiness, the Navy and Air Force have begun to look to contracting out some kinds of pilot training—specifically the live simulation of enemy aircraft.

Before the Vietnam War, American air forces trained internally, with pilots flying against others in similar aircraft using the same tactics. During that war, however, the United States learned a great deal about modern adversary tactics and the capabilities of the (mainly Soviet) aircraft employed in that war, which often differed...

Zimbabwe: A Military-Compelled Transition?

Between November 14 and 15, members of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) seized control of the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and secured other key political and military facilities, in an action seen by some observers as a coup d’état. The ultimate objective and possible trajectory of their intervention remain unclear, but the move appears to have been sparked by a succession struggle within the ruling Zimbabwe National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

Specific triggers were President Robert Mugabe’s November 6 dismissal of one of Zimbabwe’s two vice presidents, Emmerson...

Impact of the Budget Control Act Discretionary Spending Caps on a Continuing Resolution

What are the requirements of the BCA for FY2018 appropriations?

Appropriations enacted for FY2018 are subject to two statutory discretionary spending limits established by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA): One applies to defense discretionary spending, and the other applies to nondefense discretionary spending. The defense spending limit for FY2018 is $549 billion and applies to discretionary spending in budget function 050 (national defense) only. The nondefense spending limit for FY2018 is $516 billion and applies to discretionary spending in all other budget functions. The BCA...

U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominees Who Received a Rating of “Not Qualified” from the American Bar Association: Background and Historical Analysis

The process used by the American Bar Association (ABA) to evaluate judicial nominees has, over the years, remained a topic of ongoing interest among Senators during the judicial confirmation process. This CRS Insight provides background information and historical analysis of U.S. circuit and district court nominees who received, from 1953 to the present, a rating of “not qualified” from the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary of the ABA. Since 1953, every presidential Administration, except those of George W. Bush and Donald Trump, has sought ABA prenomination evaluations of its...

Tax Reform: The Child Credit and the Child Care Credit

The current tax code has two credits that offset the costs of raising children: the child tax credit (sometimes referred to as the “child credit,” or CTC) and the child and dependent care credit (sometimes referred to as the “child care credit,” or CDCTC). These are two distinct tax credits. H.R. 1, as introduced, would, among other things, increase the child tax credit to $1,600 per child; set the maximum amount of the refundable portion at $1,000 per child, allowing this amount to increase over time with inflation to $1,600 per child; and increase the income level at which the credit...

Diversity Immigrant Visa Program

On October 31, 2017, a resident of Patterson, NJ, reportedly drove a truck onto a bicycle path in New York City, killing 8 and injuring 11. Authorities have described the incident as a terrorist attack, and the suspect has been identified as an immigrant from Uzbekistan. Given that the suspect reportedly entered the country on an immigrant visa obtained through the Diversity Visa program (DV program), this incident has renewed interest in the DV program and its associated “lottery.”

What is the DV program?

The DV program was established to increase U.S. immigrant diversity by admitting...

Energy Tax Provisions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1)

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) proposes a number of changes to energy-related tax provisions. These changes are summarized in Table 1. H.R. 1 includes a broad restructuring of the federal income tax system. A full analysis of the consequences of this proposal for the energy sector, or various subsets of the energy sector, is beyond the scope of this Insight. Table 1. Energy Tax Provisions in H.R. 1

Current Law H.R. 1 10-Year Change in Revenues ($ billions)

Credit for new qualified plug-in electric vehicles Credit up to $7,500 for plug-in electric vehicles. Credit phases out at...

Why is Violence Rebounding in Mexico?

Mexico’s transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) have for years been identified as the greatest organized crime threat to the United States given their strong links to drug trafficking, money laundering, and other crimes. These organizations also generate extreme violence within Mexico, where they exercise territorial influence in large swaths of the country near illicit drug production hubs and trafficking routes and particularly where the TCOs clash to assert or maintain dominance.

Between 2008 and 2016, Mexico’s homicide rate increased from 8 per 100,000 residents to 16.2 per...

Comprehensive Energy Planning for Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands

Background

Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused extensive damage in the Caribbean and destroyed much of the electric power systems of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). Congress has recognized that electric power systems in insular areas are vulnerable to hurricanes and typhoons and dependent on imported fuel (P.L. 109-58, title II, §251; P.L. 96-597, title VI, §604). Under 48 U.S.C. §1492, Congress authorized comprehensive energy planning, demonstration of cost-effective renewable energy technologies, and financial assistance for projects in insular areas related to energy...

Payments for Affordable Care Act (ACA) Cost-Sharing Reductions

Funding for the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments established under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been the subject of hearings about the individual insurance market, numerous press articles, and analyses from actuaries to consultants. Insurers have warned that they may leave the market or raise premiums without a commitment to sustained funding.

On October 13, the Trump Administration filed a notice announcing it would terminate payments for CSRs beginning with the payment that was scheduled for October 18, potentially affecting 2017 and 2018 plan options...

GAO Issues Opinions on Applicability of Congressional Review Act to Two Guidance Documents

On October 19, 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an opinion on the applicability of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to a 2013 interagency guidance document on leveraged lending issued by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The opinion was issued in response to a letter written to GAO by Senator Pat Toomey. In the letter, Senator Toomey requested GAO’s opinion as to whether the interagency guidance falls within the definition of “rule” under the CRA. GAO’s opinion...

Doing Business with Iran: EU-Iran Trade and Investment Relations

With the easing of nuclear-related sanctions on Iran by the United States, European Union and United Nations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed on July 14, 2015, many foreign firms have begun to resume business with Iran. However, on October 13, 2017, President Trump announced he would not issue the certification that sanctions relief is “proportionate” to the measures taken by Iran to terminate its nuclear program. This decision has raised questions over the possible reimposition of U.S. economic sanctions. The EU, which views the JCPOA as a binding international...

Second Treasury Report on Regulatory Relief: Capital Markets

On October 6, 2017, the Department of the Treasury issued a report, A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities: Capital Markets, that primarily examines the regulation of debt, equity, commodities, and derivatives markets. The report is the second of a series written in accordance with Executive Order (E.O.) 13772, which was issued by the President on February 3, 2017.

The capital markets report provides 91 policy recommendations, the majority of which could be implemented by the primary regulators of U.S. capital markets: the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC),...

Human Trafficking: New Global Estimates of Forced Labor and Modern Slavery

Introduction

As part of long-standing congressional interest in global human trafficking, some Members have consistently sought greater fidelity in quantifying human trafficking’s prevalence. In September, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the advocacy organization Walk Free Foundation, in partnership with the International Organization of Migration (IOM), released a new report on the global prevalence of modern slavery (including forced marriage) and forced labor (including sex trafficking and government-imposed forced labor). The report estimated that 40.3 million people...

Department of Homeland Security Appropriations, FY2018: Current Action

The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to mark up its version of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations Act, 2018 the week of October 23, 2017.

The House of Representatives passed its version of the act as Division E and Division M of H.R. 3354, a consolidated appropriations act that now contains all 12 annual appropriations bills. H.R. 3354 passed the House by a vote of 211-198 (Roll No. 528) on September 14, 2017. The appropriations usually included in the annual appropriations bill for DHS were split between the two divisions because of how those bills were...

Iran Policy and the European Union

Policy Context

On October 13, 2017, President Trump announced a new U.S. strategy on Iran. He stated that, under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA; P.L. 114-17), he would not be certifying that continued Iran sanctions relief is proportionate to the measures taken by Iran to terminate its illicit nuclear program. That and other INARA certification requirements are related to, but separate from, Iran’s nuclear obligations under the July 14, 2015, multilateral nuclear agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA). The withholding of INARA certification does not...

U.S. Withdrawal from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

On October 12, 2017, the State Department announced that the United States will withdraw from the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The department stated that the decision “reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears ... the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias of UNESCO.” The United States seeks to “remain engaged” as a nonmember observer. Generally, observers have participated in selected UNESCO meetings and activities but are not able to vote in some UNESCO bodies or hold leadership positions. Under the terms...

Gun Control: Silencers under the Hearing Protection Act (H.R. 3668)

Firearm silencers are currently regulated under the 1934 National Firearms Act (NFA) and the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA). Both statutes use the definition of a silencer/muffler included in the GCA. The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is the lead federal agency that administers those statutes.

The Hearing Protection Act (HPA) would remove firearm silencers from regulation under the NFA. Silencers would continue to be regulated under the GCA in a manner similar to the way long guns (rifles and shotguns) are regulated under this law. On...

DOE’s Grid Resiliency Pricing Rule

In U.S. regions with competitive electricity markets, the market price of wholesale electricity has fallen in recent years due to decreased demand, and the increased availability of relatively low-priced natural gas as a fuel. The relatively higher cost of operating and maintaining older, less efficient coal and nuclear plants in particular make it difficult for them to compete with lower cost, more efficient natural gas-fired power plants, or with renewable electricity generation with lower operating costs (and in some cases, tax credits and state mandates). These coal and nuclear power...

Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Continuing Challenges

Since 2014, when the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced completion of the destruction of Syria’s declared chemical weapons (CW), questions have persisted on the extent of Damascus’s undeclared CW and production capacity. International investigators have confirmed repeated chemical weapons attacks in Syria, including chlorine gas attacks attributed to the Asad regime, as well as an April 4, 2017, attack using sarin nerve agent.

In 2017, two air strikes were carried out against chemical weapons-related facilities in Syria: one by the United States on April...

Status of Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations at the Start of FY2018

Congress has begun to consider the FY2018 Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) appropriations bill. This is the largest ($934 billion in FY2017) of the 12 annual appropriations bills when accounting for both mandatory and discretionary funding. Full-year FY2018 LHHS appropriations were not enacted before the start of the fiscal year (October 1), but a continuing resolution (P.L. 115-56; CR) has provided temporary LHHS funding through December 8.

Scope of the Bill

The LHHS bill provides annually appropriated budget authority for the...

Gun Control: “Bump-Fire” Stocks

Following the October 1, 2017, Las Vegas, NV, attack, there has been significant congressional interest in “bump-fire” stocks that can assist a person in firing a semiautomatic rifle repeatedly, sometimes at rates usually associated with fully automatic machineguns. It has been reported that the assailant in this attack had 12 semiautomatic rifles outfitted with “bump-fire” stocks. The terms “bump-fire” and “slide-fire” are often used interchangeably.

Under the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), a semiautomatic rifle is defined as:

Any repeating rifle which utilizes a portion of the energy of...

The Army’s Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Program

What Is WIN-T? The WIN-T program is the Army’s high-speed, high-capacity tactical communications network to distribute classified and unclassified information through all echelons of Army command by means of voice, data, and real-time video. WIN-T was being developed and fielded in three increments. WIN-T Increment 1 WIN-T Increment 1 is a stationary network for command posts and units at battalion-level and above. It provides a full range of at-the-halt data, voice, and video communications. The Army began fielding WIN-T Increment 1 in 2004 and completed fielding in 2012. WIN-T Increment...

U.S. Response to Injuries of U.S. Embassy Personnel in Havana, Cuba

On September 29, the U.S. Department of State ordered the departure of nonemergency personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, as well as their families, in order to minimize the risk of their exposure to harm because of a series of unexplained injuries suffered by embassy personnel since November 2016. According to the State Department, 22 persons suffered from “attacks of unknown nature,” most recently in late August 2017, at U.S. diplomatic residences and hotels where temporary duty staff were staying, with symptoms including “ear complaints, hearing loss, dizziness,...

Attack on U.S. Soldiers in Niger: Context and Issues for Congress

On October 4, four members of U.S. Special Operations Forces were killed and two wounded in an attack in western Niger, an emerging hot spot of Islamist extremist activity. The Defense Department (DOD) stated in a briefing on October 5 that the U.S. servicemembers were “conducting an advise and assist mission” with local counterparts, several of whom were also killed. The identity of perpetrators has not been confirmed. The incident has highlighted evolving security threats in West Africa’s Sahel region, as well as the growing presence of U.S. military forces engaged in counterterrorism...

Department of the Interior Secretarial Order 3356

On September 15, 2017, Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ryan Zinke issued Secretarial Order (S.O.) 3356, “Hunting, Fishing, Recreational Shooting, and Wildlife Conservation Opportunities and Coordination with States, Tribes, and Territories.” S.O. 3356 directs bureaus and offices within DOI, in collaboration with states, tribes, and territorial partners, to implement programs to enhance hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting (HFRS) opportunities on DOI-managed lands and waters, while also promoting conservation activities. Reactions to S.O. 3356 have been mixed, with some...

Federal Reserve: Background and Reappointment of Previous Chairs

Janet Yellen’s term as Federal Reserve (Fed) Chair expires February 3, 2018. Subject to Senate confirmation, President Trump may reappoint her or nominate another individual to replace her. This Insight reviews the reappointment and background of previous Fed Chairs.

The qualification requirements to serve in Fed leadership are general—statute requires the President to “have due regard to a fair representation of the financial, agricultural, industrial, and commercial interests, and geographical divisions of the country.” Yellen and her immediate predecessor, Ben Bernanke, had similar...

Puerto Rico and Electric Power Restoration from Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm with sustained wind speeds of 155 miles per hour on September 20, 2017. The hurricane also brought torrential rainfall with over 20 inches of rain resulting in widespread flooding across the island. Puerto Rico’s office of emergency management reported that the storm had incapacitated the central electric power system, leaving the entire island without power. Many wooden electric distribution poles have been knocked down, while some steel transmission system towers stand stripped of power lines. Recovery efforts from...

Kurds in Iraq Hold Controversial Referendum on Independence

The question of self-determination for the Kurds of Iraq and neighboring Syria, Turkey, and Iran has remained unresolved since the delineation of national borders in the Middle East in the wake of World War I. U.S. intervention in Iraq since the 1990s has contributed to the emergence and protection of autonomous political institutions in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and the development of the region’s economy and security forces. Today, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is recognized in Iraq’s constitution and exercises devolved and shared powers. Kurds and other Iraqis differ...

Economic Impact of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

In recent weeks, multiple southern states and U.S. territories have experienced significant property damage and loss of life as a result of severe hurricanes, including Harvey, Irma, and Maria. This Insight will focus on the economic impact of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, as the impact of Hurricane Maria is still unfolding in Puerto Rico. Hurricane Harvey first made landfall in Texas on August 25 as a category 4 storm, before stalling for a number of days above south and southeast Texas delivering torrential downpours. Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys as a category 4 storm...

Transport Agencies Withdraw Proposed Sleep Apnea Rules

On August 8, 2017, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) withdrew a rulemaking effort that would have required some truck drivers and rail engineers to be screened for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The agencies stated that, while OSA remains a safety concern, “current safety programs and FRA’s rulemaking addressing fatigue risk management are the appropriate avenues to address OSA.” Safety advocates question whether current efforts are adequate.

OSA is a safety concern for the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) because...

Recent Developments in U.S. Aid to Egypt

Overview

In recent months, the Trump Administration and Congress have taken various steps toward reducing U.S. foreign military and economic assistance to Egypt. Although lawmakers have debated the merits of U.S. foreign aid to Egypt for years, executive and legislative branch action may be tied to specific U.S. concern over Egypt’s new legal restrictions on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and its reported ties to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea). For more, see CRS Report RL33003, Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations.

Congressional Concern over...

The Equifax Data Breach: An Overview and Issues for Congress

According to Equifax, cybercriminals exploited a vulnerability in one of its online applications between mid-May and July 2017, potentially revealing information for 143 million U.S. consumers. Equifax stated that “the information accessed primarily includes names, Social Security numbers, birth date, addresses, and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers. In addition, credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers, and certain dispute documents with personal identifying information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers, were accessed.” Much of the information that...

President Trump’s Proclamation on Enhanced Vetting of Foreign Nationals from Designated Countries

On September 24, 2017, President Donald Trump issued a presidential proclamation entitled “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats” (the proclamation) that suspends and/or restricts U.S. entry of foreign nationals from eight countries. The proclamation replaces aspects of Executive Order (E.O.) 13780 issued on March 6, 2017, and entitled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” portions of which federal courts had blocked. E.O. 13780 revoked and...

Waivers of Jones Act Shipping Requirements

On September 28, the Trump Administration issued a temporary waiver of the Jones Act (§27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920) to facilitate response to the severe damage caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. In recent weeks, the Administration issued similar waivers affecting Texas and Louisiana, following Hurricane Harvey, and affecting Florida, following Hurricane Irma. This CRS Insight is intended to clarify the process and requirements for obtaining waivers of this law.

The Jones Act requires that vessels transporting goods or passengers between U.S. points be built in the United...

Hurricanes Irma and Maria: Impact on Caribbean Countries and Foreign Territories

In addition to causing massive destruction to the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, Hurricanes Irma and Maria severely affected several Caribbean countries and foreign territories. Between September 5 and 9, 2017, Hurricane Irma caused widespread damage to Barbuda, part of the independent country of Antigua and Barbuda; the island of St. Martin/St. Maarten, split between French and Dutch rule (St. Martin is a French overseas collectivity while St. Maarten is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands); several southeastern and...

2017 Hurricanes and Army Corps of Engineers: Background for Flood Response and Recovery

In addition to damage from high winds, hurricanes can produce damaging storm surge and flooding from rainfall. This Insight summarizes flood-management activities of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE, or Corps) related to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. USACE has three roles relevant to hurricanes: emergency responder with flood-fighting and post-disaster recovery, owner and operator of flood-risk-reduction projects, and provider of assistance to repair certain nonfederal flood-control infrastructure. Congress may have interest in these roles as it responds to...

Pesticide Registration Fees: Reauthorization and Proposed Amendments

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) capacity to evaluate pesticide registrations within statutory time frames is generally dependent on sufficient resources and requisite scientific information to inform evaluations. Pursuant to the Pesticide Registration Improvement Extension Act of 2012 (PRIA 3, P.L. 112-177), Congress reauthorized EPA to collect two categories of fees to support the agency’s pesticide regulatory program and related activities through September 30, 2017. The Continuing Appropriations Act, 2018, and Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief...

Normalization of the Federal Reserve’s Balance Sheet

This Insight answers questions about the Federal Reserve’s (Fed’s) September 20 announcement that it would begin to normalize its balance sheet in October by gradually reducing its asset holdings.

How Did the Balance Sheet Get So Large?

During the 2008 financial crisis, the Fed increased its balance sheet. Initially, the increase mainly took the form of emergency assistance to provide liquidity to financial firms. As that assistance was repaid, balance sheet growth shifted to large-scale purchases of Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS), popularly known as “quantitative...

Hurricanes and Electricity Infrastructure Hardening

This Insight discusses the measures undertaken by electric utilities to prevent or mitigate power outages resulting from severe weather events. Power lines and transformers used to provide electricity to customers are particularly susceptible to damage due to their exposure to the elements. (See CRS Report R42696, Weather-Related Power Outages and Electric System Resiliency.) The loss of life and extensive damage seen so far in the 2017 hurricane season has refocused the attention of Congress on the destructive potential of such storms. High winds, rain, and coastal surges can combine to...

Election in Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking a fourth term in Germany’s parliamentary election scheduled for September 24, 2017. Merkel has led Europe’s largest and most prosperous country for 12 years and is widely viewed as the most influential political leader in Europe. Opinion polls suggest she will be reelected comfortably.

Merkel’s campaign has stressed the value of continuity and predictability during a time of flux in Europe and beyond. While presiding over a period of economic prosperity in Germany, Merkel has been confronted with crises such as significant migration and refugee flows,...

Implementation Date Nears for HHS Emergency Preparedness (EP) Rule

On November 16, 2017, many U.S. health care entities will be expected to fully comply with new federal emergency preparedness requirements. Emergency Preparedness Requirements for Medicare and Medicaid Participating Providers and Suppliers (the “EP Rule”), issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), became effective November 16, 2016.

In the 2013 proposed rule, CMS said it had concluded that “the current regulatory patchwork of federal, state, and local laws and guidelines, combined with the various accrediting organization emergency preparedness standards, falls far...

The OCS Royalty Rate: Statutory Requirements and General Guidance

Background

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) (43 U.S.C. 1337; P.L. 83-212) authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to establish a royalty rate as part of the process for leasing acreage for oil and gas developments in federal waters. “The Secretary of the Interior shall establish royalties, fees, rentals, bonuses, and other payments to ensure a fair return to the United States for any lease....” Further, OCSLA requires a cash bonus bid with a royalty set at not less than 12.5% in amount or value of production (43 U.S.C. 1337 (a)(1)(A)) (For details on product valuation, see 30...

Congressional Considerations Related to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

This Insight provides a short overview of issues Congress may consider in relation to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. It is not intended to provide up-to-date information on unfolding events. For storm-related updates and the current status of response efforts, see official government sources (e.g., Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and National Weather Service), congressional advisories from government sources, and/or news media. For additional support, please contact available CRS experts in disaster-related issue areas.

Federal Declarations and Response

As of September 14, in...

Nuclear Talks with North Korea?

The accelerated pace of North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing, and continued threats against the United States and its allies have raised questions over the usefulness, timing, scope, and goals of any diplomatic talks with Pyongyang. An aggressive negotiation strategy is one of many options available to the United States. The Trump Administration has stated that its approach of “maximum pressure”—through strengthened United Nations sanctions, increased economic pressure, and ramped up military cooperation with allies—is aimed at convincing Pyongyang “to de-escalate and return to the...

Resolutions Censuring the President: History and Context, 1st-114th Congresses

Censure is a reprimand adopted by one or both chambers of Congress against a Member of Congress, President, federal judge, or government official. Censure against a sitting Member involves a formal process that is sanctioned by the Constitution (Article 1, Section 5). Non-Member censure, however, is not an enforceable action and has no uniform language. Instead, non-Member censure resolutions may use a variety of terms to highlight conduct deemed by the House or Senate to be inappropriate or unauthorized.

Since 1800, the House and Senate have introduced numerous resolutions to censure or...

Congressional Consideration of Resolutions to “Censure” Executive Branch Officials

Over the history of the federal Congress, Members have proposed resolutions to formally express the House or Senate’s censure, disapproval, loss of confidence, or condemnation of the President or other executive branch official or their actions. This Insight summarizes the parliamentary procedures the House and Senate might use to consider a resolution to censure or condemn an executive branch official and provides links to additional reading material on the subject.

Two Types of “Censure” Resolutions

An important distinction should be made between two types of “censure” resolutions: (1)...

Unauthorized Childhood Arrivals: Legislative Options

In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began granting deferred action through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to certain individuals without lawful immigration status who had arrived in the United States as children and met other requirements. The requirements included initial entry into the United States before age 16, continuous U.S. residence since June 15, 2007, and being under age 31 as of June 15, 2012. Deferred action provides protection against removal from the United States. Individuals granted deferred action also may receive work...

CRISPR Gene Editing Research in Embryos Generates Scientific and Ethics Debate

A recent experiment in the United States using the gene modification tool CRISPR to target a disease gene in human embryos has raised optimism about promising medical advances, generated scientific debate, and renewed debate about long-standing ethical issues.

Since 1996, Congress has prohibited the use of funds appropriated in the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill for “the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes” or for “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that...

Executive Branch Legislative Proposals Affecting Veterans Benefits in the FY2018 Budget

The FY2018 Budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) contains two legislative proposals which, if enacted, would affect disability and other types of cash benefits payable by the VA to certain veterans. These proposals would affect both current and future beneficiaries. The proposal to restrict eligibility for Individual Unemployability (IU) would reduce the monthly benefits of affected veterans and the proposed changed to the calculation of the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) would reduce the annual growth in benefits. Savings from both proposals would be used to partially...

U.S. Air Force Pilot Shortage

In his opening comments to the 2017 U.S. Air Force Posture Hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman John McCain stated, “The force is short 1,500 pilots.... This is a full-blown crisis, and if left unresolved, it will call into question the Air Force’s ability to accomplish its mission.” According to current Air Force statistics, the service is 1,947 pilots short of its authorized strength. The shortage is most acute among fighter pilots: the Air Force predicts it will be 1,055 fighter pilots short of 3,781 authorized by the end of FY2017, following a deficiency of 873...

Federal Agricultural Recovery Resources for Hurricane-Related Losses

Following the destruction of Hurricane Harvey, which hit the Texas coast on August 25, 2017, many in the agriculture industry are facing large-scale production losses as well as extensive damage to land and facilities. Hurricane Irma now poses a similar threat to Florida, other southeastern states, and several U.S. territories. Crops such as rice, cotton, soybeans, and cattle appear to be among the hardest hit areas of agricultural production from Hurricane Harvey. However, to date no official loss estimates have been released. Sugar, citrus, cotton, specialty crops, and livestock are just...

New Financial Sanctions on Venezuela: Key Issues

Venezuela continues to be in the throes of a deep political crisis under the authoritarian rule of President Nicolás Maduro. While the United States has employed various sanctions as a policy tool in response to concerns about the activities of the Venezuelan government and Venezuelan individuals for more than a decade, sanctions have been ratcheted up in recent months as the political situation has deteriorated.

After a controversial election of a National Constituent Assembly on July 30, 2017, the Trump Administration weighed a range of possible new sanctions to increase pressure on the...

Hurricane Harvey and the Oil Industry

Hurricane Harvey has had a significant impact on oil industry infrastructure, and, therefore, the ability of the industry to supply petroleum products to the national and world markets at stable prices. All stages of the oil/petroleum product distribution chain, including production fields, refineries, pipelines, and harbors and ship terminals, have been affected. Over the next several days, damage assessments will continue and estimates of when normal operations will commence will become available. Hurricane Harvey has demonstrated the interconnectedness of the industry and how the...

Transgender Servicemembers: Policy Shifts and Considerations for Congress

A series of Twitter posts on July 26, 2017, by President Donald J. Trump indicated a planned shift in Department of Defense (DOD) policy on service in the Armed Forces by transgender individuals. A Presidential Memorandum to the Secretaries of Defense and the Homeland Security (as parent agency to the U.S. Coast Guard) followed on August 25, 2017, outlining the new policy parameters with respect to uniformed DOD and Coast Guard personnel.

Background: Policy Evolution

Prior to 2016, DOD policy treated the physical and psychological aspects of transgender conditions as (1) grounds for the...

Allowances and Office Staff for Former Presidents, FY2016-FY2018 Appropriations

Introduction

The Former Presidents Act (FPA), enacted on August 25, 1958 (3 U.S.C. §102 note), “was designed to maintain the dignity’ of the office of the President by providing former Presidents—and their spouses—a pension and other benefits to help them respond to post-presidency mail and speaking requests, among other informal public duties often required.” (See CRS Report RL34631, Former Presidents: Pensions, Office Allowances, and Other Federal Benefits.) The General Services Administration (GSA) administers the law. Five former Presidents receive pensions and benefits under the FPA:...

Hurricanes and Gasoline Prices

The Gulf of Mexico, especially the coastlines of Texas and Louisiana, have borne the brunt of many of the most severe hurricanes to hit the United States in recent years. The high winds, heavy rains, and storm surges that constitute a hurricane have resulted in loss of life, flooding, property damage, and economic disruption. In addition, this area includes important oil industry resources including offshore production facilities, refineries, and transportation infrastructure including import and export shipping facilities and pipelines.

Hurricanes Ike, which made landfall in Texas on...

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors: Status and Issues

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are nuclear reactors that are sized to be suitable for modular construction. SMRs are generally defined as having electric generating capacity of 300 megawatts (MWe) or less, in contrast to existing nuclear power reactors, which typically exceed 1,000 MWe. A wide variety of nuclear technologies could be used in SMRs, in addition to the conventional light water reactor (LWR) technology in existing U.S. commercial nuclear plants. Many SMR designs are still in development stages, and the projected timelines for initial deployment of SMRs generally range from the...

H.R. 79, Section 452 of H.R. 10, and Section 913 of H.R. 3280: Helping Angels Lead Our Startups

The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012 (JOBS Act; P.L. 112-106) was broadly aimed at stimulating corporate capital formation, particularly for emerging and smaller firms, largely through regulatory relief from various disclosure-based requirements in federal securities laws administered by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

In recent years, Congress has considered legislation extending the JOBS Act’s focus on corporate regulatory relief. In the 115th Congress, such legislation includes H.R. 79, Helping Angels Lead Our Startups, which passed the House on January 10,...

Confederate Names and Military Installations

After the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017, surrounding the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue, some Members of Congress have expressed interest in military installations named after Confederate leaders, and the process for renaming these bases. Currently, the Department of Defense (DOD) does not have a review process to reevaluate the naming of specific installations. Instead, each military department has its own naming convention that is summarized below. A list of Navy ships named after Confederate commanders and a battle is also included.

According to...

DOD Plan to Split Acquisition Duties

On August 2, 2017, DOD provided Congress its plan for breaking the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s acquisition office—the Under Secretary of Defense (USD) for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L)—into two separate organizations, as required by the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Section 901. The NDAA conference report laid out the concerns that drove the split:

“Three broad priorities framed the conference discussions: (1) elevate the mission of advancing technology and innovation within the Department; (2) foster distinct technology and acquisition cultures...

Select Demographic and Other Characteristics of Recent U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominees

This Insight provides information related to select demographic and other characteristics of U.S. circuit and district court nominees whose nominations were submitted to the Senate by President Trump prior to August 1, 2017. President Trump submitted a total of 26 nominations prior to this date. The select demographic and other characteristics of these 26 individuals are compared to the same demographic and other characteristics of the first 26 individuals nominated to U.S. circuit and district court judgeships during the Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton presidencies. The information is...

Inspector General Community Launches Oversight.gov to Increase Accessibility to Reports

On August 2, 2017, the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) launched Oversight.gov, a central repository for Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports that is intended to “improve the public’s access to independent and authoritative information about the Federal Government.” The website is currently being beta tested. As of August 2, 2017, 36 of 73 OIGs were participating in the beta test (Table 1). The establishment of, and participation in, the website is not statutorily required.

Oversight.gov is intended to be the first one-stop shop for OIG reports....

FY2018 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations: Status and Issues

Congress has begun consideration of the 12 annual appropriations bills for FY2018, including the bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS), which is one of the largest and most controversial of the bills. When taking into account both mandatory and discretionary funding, the bill typically receives about $900 billion annually. Most recently, the House Appropriations Committee reported the FY2018 LHHS bill to the House on July 24, 2017 (H.R. 3358; H.Rept. 115-244). The report accompanying the House bill includes a detailed table...

Sifting Domestic Terrorism from Hate Crime and Homegrown Violent Extremism

In light of the violence related to protests in Charlottesville, VA, on August 12, 2017, policymakers may be interested in how the concepts of domestic terrorism, hate crime, and homegrown violent extremism compare with one another. They are fairly distinct ideas that federal law enforcement agencies use to categorize key types of criminals whose illegal activities are at least partly ideologically motivated. Specifically, these terms may be part of public discussion regarding a widely reported incident involving James Alex Fields, who according to witnesses drove his car into a group of...

Insurance and the Financial CHOICE Act (H.R.10)

The Financial CHOICE Act of 2017 (H.R. 10) was passed by the House on June 8, 2017. Among many other provisions, H.R. 10 would revamp many of the insurance provisions in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank; P.L. 111-203).

Background on Insurance Regulation

The federal role in regulating insurance is relatively limited compared with the role in banking and securities. Insurance companies, unlike banks and securities firms, have been chartered and regulated solely by the states for the past 150 years. The current state-centric system was confirmed...

The Open Skies Treaty: Issues in the Current Debate

The United States, Canada, and 22 European nations signed the Treaty on Open Skies on March 24, 1992. The treaty entered into force on January 1, 2002, and now has 34 members. Each participant must permit unarmed observation aircraft to fly over its entire territory to observe military forces and activities. The treaty is designed to increase transparency, build confidence, reduce the chances of military confrontation, and encourage cooperation among European nations.

According to the U.S. State Department, the parties have conducted more than 1,200 observation flights since 2002. While...

Rising Costs and Delays Doom New Nuclear Reactors in South Carolina

A utility consortium that had been building two new nuclear power reactors in South Carolina announced July 31, 2017, it is abandoning the project because of growing cost overruns and schedule delays. Completion of the two additional reactors at the existing V.C. Summer Nuclear Station near Jenkinsville, SC, had been in doubt since Westinghouse Electric Corporation, the lead contractor for the project, filed for bankruptcy reorganization on March 29, 2017. Westinghouse also had been building two new reactors at the Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia. The lead owner of that project, Southern...

China-India Border Tensions at Doka La

Recent border tensions between India and China may be indicative of a new phase of heightened Sino-Indian rivalry. This rivalry is manifesting itself not only along the two nations’ 2,167-mile-long disputed Himalayan border, but also throughout South Asia and the broader Indian Ocean littoral region. Intensified frictions raise the potential for open conflict and could serve as an impetus for further U.S.-India strategic cooperation that could have implications for China. An issue for Congress is whether to call on the Administration to put forth a strategy and report on this strategic...

Paris Agreement on Climate Change: U.S. Letter to United Nations

The Department of State communicated to the United Nations on August 4, 2017, a U.S. intention to withdraw from the 2016 Paris Agreement (PA). The PA is an international agreement to address climate change over the coming century existing under the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). On June 1, 2017, President Donald Trump publicly announced this intent. The letter to the U.N. stated that “unless the United States finds suitable terms for reengagement,” it would provide formal written notification of the U.S. intent to withdraw “as soon as it is eligible to do so.”...

Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and Debt Restructuring Under PROMESA, P.L. 114-187

In recent years, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (CPR) has faced a fiscal crisis resulting from economic contraction, high public sector debt levels, outmigration, and other factors. In recent weeks, the finances of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA)—or in Spanish, the Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica (AEE)—have attracted specific attention. PREPA’s debt—about $9 billion—is larger than that of any other operational U.S. public corporation. Planned actions to address the debt, and high electricity prices due to the deteriorating state of the island’s generating and transmission...

Productivity Growth Across the Economy

Long-term economic growth is generally dependent on three factors: growth in the size of the labor force, growth in the amount of physical capital (e.g., tools, machines, computers) available to workers, and growth in productivity. Productivity is a measure of how well an economy produces goods and services with a given number of workers and amount of physical capital. Productivity growth is often of particular concern to policymakers because it is a vital determinant of long-term economic growth and drives increases in income for businesses and individuals. This Insight examines recent...

Trump Administration Releases First Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions

On July 20, 2017, the Trump Administration released its first Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (hereinafter Unified Agenda). The Unified Agenda—which is usually published twice a year—is a government-wide publication of rulemaking actions agencies expect to take in the coming months and, as the name suggests, contains both regulatory actions (i.e., new regulations) and deregulatory actions (i.e., reductions in or elimination of current regulations). At present, the Unified Agenda does not contain a way to separate deregulatory actions from regulatory actions....

Global Engagement Center: Background and Issues

The State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) is tasked with countering foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation targeting the United States and U.S. interests. A number of recent reports have stated that the GEC has not been given access to authorized funds for FY2017, leading to speculation and concern in some quarters about its continued role and operations.

Counterterrorism Communications in the State Department

The GEC is the latest iteration of State Department efforts to coordinate interagency communications countering the messaging and influence of...

Yemen: Cholera Outbreak

Overview

Yemen is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis due to an ongoing international conflict that began in March 2015 and has killed over 10,000 people. More than half of Yemen’s estimated 25 million population lack access to basic health care, and roughly 15 million people are without access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services. Only 45% of health facilities in the country are functional, and many have limited access to medicines, medical equipment, and clean water and sanitation, further complicating efforts to control the outbreak.

Yemen is experiencing the...

Rwanda’s August 4 Presidential Election

Politics and the 2017 Presidential Election

The circumstances of Rwanda’s August 4 presidential election highlight some of the policy challenges in approaching a country that arguably combines effective governance with political repression. President Paul Kagame, in office since 2000, is campaigning for a third term. A constitutional referendum in 2015 changed the presidential term from seven to five years but exempted the sitting President from the shortened term and from a two-term limit until 2024 (Article 101, Article 172).

The referendum was scheduled following “national...

Ongoing Section 232 Steel and Aluminum Investigations

The Department of Commerce is currently conducting two investigations to determine the national security implications of U.S. imports of steel and aluminum under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 (19 U.S.C. § 1862, as amended). Section 232, sometimes called the "national security clause," provides the President with the ability to impose restrictions on imports, such as tariffs or quotas, if the Secretary of Commerce, in consultation with the Department of Defense and other government officials, determines such imports threaten to impair the national security of the United...

U.S. Petroleum Trade with Venezuela: Financial and Economic Considerations Associated with Possible Sanctions

The political crisis in Venezuela is at a pivotal point (See CRS Report R44841, Venezuela: Background and U.S. Policy). President Nicolas Maduro is convening elections on July 30 for delegates to a constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution and possibly dismantle the legislative branch. On July 17, 2017, President Donald Trump issued a statement that declared that “the United States will take strong and swift economic actions” if the assembly elections occur. Those actions reportedly could include sanctions on Venezuela’s energy sector, which generates 95% of its export...

Aviation Bills Take Flight, but Legislative Path Remains Unclear

Both the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation acted favorably on bills to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other aviation programs during the last week of June. The two bills, H.R. 2997 and S. 1405, have significant differences, many of them related to provisions in the House bill that would create a not-for-profit private corporation to take over responsibility for running the national air traffic control system. The Senate bill contains no similar provisions, and the path forward for...

Hong Kong’s High Court Disqualifies Four More Legislators

On July 15, 2017, Hong Kong’s High Court decided that the oaths of office taken by four members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (Legco) on October 12, 2016, were invalid, and as a consequence, determined they were “disqualified from assuming or entering the Office of a Legco Member.” The ruling raises the number of disqualified Legco members to six, as two other members previously had been disqualified by the High Court on November 15, 2016 (see CRS Insight IN10605, China and the Hong Kong High Court Issue Decisions on Legislative Council Controversy (Update)). The four Members...

The Proposed EU-Japan FTA and Implications for U.S. Trade Policy

On July 6, 2017, ahead of the G-20 annual summit, the European Union (EU) and Japan announced reaching an agreement “in principle” on a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), following 18 rounds of negotiations over four years. The EU and Japan aim for entry-into-force (EIF) of the agreement in early 2019. Considerable uncertainty surrounds the agreement, however, as some commitments remain under negotiation and current United Kingdom (UK) negotiations over withdrawal from the EU (“Brexit”) further complicate the path forward. (The European Commission negotiates FTAs on behalf of the EU and...

The G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany: Key Debates and Outcomes

Germany hosted the annual Group of 20 (G-20) summit on July 7-8 in Hamburg. The G-20 is a forum for advancing international economic cooperation and coordination among 20 major economies, including the United States, that together account for about 85% of global economic output. In recent years, the G-20 has also increasingly become a forum for discussing pressing foreign policy issues. The agenda for the 2017 summit included a broad mix of economic and foreign policy issues: international trade, global economic growth, the global financial system, climate policy, development, health,...

Overview of U.S. Sanctions Regimes on Russia

Background

On December 29, 2016, President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia for malicious cyber activity. These were the latest in a series of U.S. sanctions regimes that have been imposed on Russia over the last several years in response to activities that are state-sponsored or allegedly conducted by government officials. In addition, a number of Russian individuals and entities are subject to sanctions for terrorism, transnational crime, and weapons proliferation.

The United States’ use of economic sanctions in furtherance of national security or foreign policy is implemented,...

The Nuclear Ban Treaty: An Overview

Since the founding of the United Nations in 1945, the First Committee of the UN General Assembly (UN GA) has called for nuclear disarmament. UNGA Resolution A/71/258 (2016) called on UN member states to negotiate in 2017 a legally binding Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the nuclear “ban treaty.” Negotiations were held in New York, February 27-March 31, and June 15-July 7. At the end of the conference, 122 countries voted to approve the treaty. Singapore abstained, and the Netherlands voted against it, citing conflicts between the treaty and the Netherland’s...

S. 1460: A New Energy and Resources Bill for the 115th Congress

On June 28, Senators Murkowski and Cantwell (Chair and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee) introduced S. 1460, the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017. The next day, the bill was read a second time and placed on the Senate calendar. S. 1460 has many similarities, but also significant differences, with the Senate-passed version of S. 2012, the comprehensive energy and natural resources bill in the 114th Congress (see CRS Report R44291, Energy Legislation: Comparison of Selected Provisions in S. 2012 as Passed by the House and Senate, by Brent D....

North Korea’s Long-Range Missile Test

On July 4, 2017, North Korea tested a long-range ballistic missile that some observers characterized as having intercontinental range. If so, it represents reaching a milestone years earlier than many analysts predicted. The two-stage missile reportedly flew in a high trajectory for 37 minutes, demonstrating a theoretical range that could include Alaska. It is not known what payload was used, but the actual range using a nuclear warhead would likely be significantly shorter. Although North Korea has not proven the capability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead or develop a reentry vehicle...

U.S. Sanctions Relief for Sudan

The Trump Administration is expected to decide by July 12 whether to lift most of a 20-year-old sanctions regime against Sudan, continuing an Obama Administration strategy of conditional engagement with the country. By that date, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson must present an interagency report on Sudan’s compliance with benchmarks negotiated between the Obama Administration and the government of President Omar al Bashir. Bashir came to power in a 1989 coup and is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Successive...

Executive Order to Expand Apprenticeships

On June 15, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13801 (EO) with the stated goal of expanding apprenticeship programs as a workforce development strategy. The EO emphasized apprenticeship programs as a workforce-driven strategy that may come at a lower cost to students than traditional higher education. The EO also directed federal agencies to review existing workforce development programs.

Role of the Federal Government in Apprenticeship

Apprenticeship is a workforce development strategy for a specific occupation that combines on-the-job training and related instruction (often...

Hong Kong Marks 20th Anniversary of Handover to Chinese Sovereignty

On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in accordance with the “Joint Declaration of the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the Question of Hong Kong” (Joint Declaration) and the “Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR)” (Basic Law). Twenty years later, some observers, including some Members of Congress, question the PRC government’s commitment to the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, and have proposed changing U.S. relations with China and Hong...

The Advanced Nuclear Production Tax Credit

The advanced nuclear production tax credit (PTC) (Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 45J) provides a 1.8 cent per kilowatt hour (kWh) tax credit for electricity sold that was produced at qualifying facilities. Criteria for qualifying facilities include that they must use nuclear reactor designs approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after 1993, and must be placed in service by the end of 2020. Qualifying facilities can claim tax credits during the first eight years of production.

There are additional limitations associated with the provision. First, the credit is restricted to...

Qatar and its Neighbors: Disputes and Possible Implications

Qatar’s Neighbors Break Relations, Impose Sanctions

On June 5, the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Egypt severed diplomatic relations with Qatar, moved to expel Qatari diplomats, recalled their ambassadors from the Qatari capital, Doha, and imposed limits on the entry and transit of Qatari nationals and vessels in their territories, waters, and airspace. Qataris currently in these countries were given 14 days to leave.

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry expressed “deep regret” at these steps, calling them “unjustified” and an attempt to impose...

DOD Security Cooperation: Assessment, Monitoring, and Evaluation

Introduction

As part of recent efforts to modify existing security cooperation authorities, the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (P.L. 114-328) enacted several new provisions that modify the budgeting, execution, administration, and evaluation of Department of Defense (DOD) security cooperation programs and activities.

To date, the Department of Defense (DOD) has spent billions of dollars on efforts to train, equip, and otherwise support foreign military and security forces. In the 114th Congress, both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees examined various aspects...

U.S. Beef: It’s What’s for China

In June 2017 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that the United States and China had reached an agreement resolving technical issues that would allow U.S. beef exports to China to resume, thus resolving a long-standing dispute between the two countries. China had banned imports of U.S. beef immediately after bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was discovered in the United States in December 2003. In 2006, China unilaterally announced that it would lift its ban on some U.S. beef products contingent on certain age requirements and the removal of specified risk material...

Out of Breath: Military Aircraft Oxygen Issues

The Air Force recently grounded some of its newest aircraft, F-35A strike fighters, due to incidents in which pilots became physiologically impaired with symptoms of oxygen deficiency while flying. Although the root cause of the F-35 incidents has not yet been established, the grounding has renewed attention on hypoxia, a physical condition caused by oxygen deficiency that may result in temporary cognitive and physiological impairment and possible loss of consciousness. Hypoxia has affected pilots of F-22, F/A-18, and T-45 aircraft in recent years.

Military aircraft (and jet aircraft...

Cuba: President Trump Partially Rolls Back Obama Engagement Policy

On June 16, 2017, President Trump unveiled his Administration’s policy on Cuba, which partially rolls back some of the Obama Administration’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. President Trump set forth his Administration’s policy in a speech in Miami, FL, where he signed a national security presidential memorandum on Cuba replacing President Obama’s October 2016 presidential policy directive, which had laid out objectives for the normalization process. The new policy leaves most of the Obama-era policy changes in place, including the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and a...

Office of Government Ethics: Role in Collecting and Making Ethics Waivers Public

On April 28, 2017, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) issued a program advisory (PA-17-02) to request data on the issuance of certain waivers and authorizations from executive branch agencies, including the Executive Office of the President (EOP). OGE requested documentation for all waivers given to executive branch appointees between May 1, 2016, and April 30, 2017, under five authorities: Executive Order (E.O.) 13770, E.O. 13490, 18 U.S.C. §208(b)(1), 5 C.F.R. §2635.502(d), and 5 C.F.R. §2635.503(c). The data were due to OGE by June 1, 2017. One hundred thirty five of 136 executive...

First Treasury Report on Regulatory Relief: Depository Institutions

On June 12, 2017, the Department of the Treasury issued a report, A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities: Banks and Credit Unions, which examines the regulation of banks and credit unions. The Treasury stated it would be the first in a series of reports written in accordance with Executive Order (E.O.) 13772 issued by President Donald Trump on February 3, 2017. E.O. 13772 identified “Core Principles” that should be adhered to in financial regulation and directed the Secretary of the Treasury to report on “the extent to which ... Government policies promote the Core...

Violence Against Members of Congress and Their Staff: A Brief Overview

Questions about the personal security and safety of Members of Congress and their staffs are of enduring concern for the House, Senate, and the United States Capitol Police (USCP). Broader interest in the media and among the public arises in the aftermath of an incident such as the June 14, 2017, attack on at least 17 Members of Congress, several staff, USCP officers, and members of the public in Alexandria, Virginia. In that incident, a Member was critically wounded, and others, including another Member, a congressional staffer, USCP officers, and a member of the public were injured...

Dakota Access Pipeline: Siting Controversy

Background Recent growth of domestic crude oil production has resulted in an unprecedented expansion of the United States’ oil pipeline network. One major oil pipeline recently constructed is the Dakota Access Pipeline, a 30-inch diameter, 1,172-mile project that carries crude oil produced in northwest North Dakota to southern Illinois (Figure 1). The Dakota Access Pipeline’s maximum capacity is 570,000 barrels per day. Figure 1. Dakota Access Pipeline Route / Source: CRS using data from Platts PowerMap 2016, and Esri Data and Maps 2014. Siting Approval The federal government does not have...

United Kingdom Election Result

The United Kingdom (UK) election of June 8, 2017, resulted in a hung parliament, an outcome in which no single party won a majority of seats in the 650-seat House of Commons. With 318 seats, the Conservative Party came in first place but lost the majority it had held after winning 331 seats in the 2015 election. The Labour Party came in second place, outperforming most expectations by winning 262 seats, a gain of 30.

Conservative-Led Minority Government Expected to Carry On

The Conservative Party currently is expected to continue leading the UK government, with Prime Minister Theresa May...

The President’s FY2018 Budget Request for the National Science Foundation

The Trump Administration released the FY2018 Budget Request to Congress for the National Science Foundation (NSF) on May 23, 2017, proposing significant funding reductions across the agency’s major research, education, and construction accounts. Overall, the request includes $6.653 billion for NSF, $819 million (11%) below the FY2017 enacted amount of $7.472 billion (P.L. 115-31). If funded at the requested level, NSF appropriations would be the lowest since FY2002 in inflation-adjusted (constant) dollars (Figure 1). Ultimately, Congress will determine FY2018 appropriations levels and may...

Congress Faces Calls to Address Expiring Funds for Primary Care

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), enacted in March 2010, appropriated billions of dollars of mandatory funds to support grant programs and other activities. Specifically, it provided support for three programs focused on expanding access to primary care services for populations that are typically underserved. These three programs are the Health Centers program, the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), and payments to support medical residents training at teaching health centers—outpatient health facilities that primarily provide care to underserved populations.

The ACA funds were initially...

The Financial CHOICE Act (H.R. 10) and the Dodd-Frank Act

Representative Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services, introduced the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017 (H.R. 10) on April 26, 2017. H.R. 10 was passed by the House on June 8, 2017. The bill as passed is a wide-ranging proposal with 12 titles that would alter many parts of the financial regulatory system. H.R. 10 is similar to, but has several major differences from, H.R. 5983 from the 114th Congress (called the Financial CHOICE Act of 2016).

The next section highlights major proposals included in the bill, as passed. It is not a comprehensive summary. For a more...

What is the Proposed U.S.-EU Insurance Covered Agreement?

On January 13, 2017, the United States and European Union (EU) concluded negotiations on the first insurance covered agreement. A covered agreement is a relatively new form of international agreement, established along with the Federal Insurance Office (FIO) in Title V of the Dodd-Frank Act (P.L. 111-203). The statute defines a covered agreement as a type of international insurance or reinsurance agreement for recognition of prudential measures that FIO and the United States Trade Representative (USTR) negotiate on a bilateral or multilateral basis. After such an agreement, FIO has...

U.S. Foreign Aid to the Middle East and North Africa: The President’s FY2018 Request

As the largest regional recipient of U.S. economic and security assistance, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is perennially a major focus for Congress. Figure 1. FY2018 Foreign Operations Request, by Region / Source: Data for this figure is from FY2018 budget roll-out documents provided by the State Department. It does not include administrative funds, MCC, humanitarian assistance, or food aid. Note: WH = Western Hemisphere; SCA = South Central Asia; EE = Europe and Eurasia; EAP = East Asia and Pacific. For FY2018, the Trump Administration proposes to cut 12% of overall...

European Security and Islamist Terrorism

The June 3, 2017, attack in London—in which 8 people were killed and nearly 50 injured—was the third terrorist incident in the United Kingdom in the past few months. Five people were killed outside the UK parliament in March in a similar car and knife attack, and in May, a suicide bomber killed 22 people and wounded 116 at a music concert in Manchester. These incidents are among a string of terrorist attacks in Europe connected to or inspired by violent Islamist extremism, with many since 2014 linked to the Islamic State group (also known as ISIS or ISIL). (For more information, see CRS In...

Implementation of Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Amendments (P.L. 114-182)

Since President Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (P.L. 114-182) on June 22, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been implementing the act’s amendments to Title I of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA; 15 U.S.C. 2601-2629). TSCA as amended establishes a framework to identify commercial chemicals that present unreasonable risks and to regulate the product life cycle of a chemical (i.e., manufacture or importation, processing, distribution, use, and disposal) so that it no longer presents unreasonable risk. Nearly one year...

When an Agency’s Budget Request Does Not Match the President’s Request: The FY2018 CFTC Request and “Budget Bypass”

Two Different Budget Requests for CFTC?

The Trump Administration released its first full budget request on May 23, 2017, for FY2018. Like other recent presidential budget requests, it includes an Appendix chapter for independent agencies such as the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). Notably, the Trump Administration’s budget request for CFTC does not equal the amount requested directly by the agency in its budget justification submitted to Congress. Specifically:

The Trump Administration’s FY2018 request for CFTC is $250 million.

CFTC’s Budget Justification submitted to Congress...

Ransomware Attacks Renew Focus on HIPAA Security Standards

Health care facilities increasingly are coming under cyberattack. This trend has raised concerns about the vulnerability of electronic health information, which often includes multiple personal identifiers. These can be used by hackers to create false identities for illegal purposes such as creating fraudulent insurance claims.

But health care cybersecurity involves more than just safeguarding patient data from identity theft. Hackers are now using ransomware to attack hospitals and other health care facilities in an effort to extort money by disrupting their operations.

Ransomware is a...

The President’s FY2018 Budget Request for the Department of Energy

Overview

The President’s fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget request, Budget of the U.S. Government: A New Foundation for American Greatness, includes $28.0 billion for the Department of Energy (DOE), $2.7 billion (8.8%) less than the FY2017 enacted appropriations of $30.7 billion (see P.L. 115-31 and Division D Explanatory Statement). While this request would reduce the total budget for DOE, it would increase overall funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and increase funding for cleanup programs within the Office of Environmental Management. The request would reduce...

The President’s FY2018 Budget Request for Agriculture Appropriations and the Farm Bill

Background

The Trump Administration released its first full budget request on May 23, 2017. It proposes specific amounts for the FY2018 Agriculture appropriation as well as legislative changes to various mandatory spending programs, including those in the farm bill.

The Administration’s budget outline, released on March 16, 2017, proposed an overall 21% reduction for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it mentioned seven specific discretionary programs for elimination or reduction. It did not address any mandatory spending proposals. (See CRS Insight IN10675, The President’s FY2018...

Burma’s Second 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference

Burma’s second “21st Century Panglong Peace Conference,” held in Burma’s capital, Naypiytaw, on May 24-29, 2017, adjourned with mixed results. Some observers had hoped the conference could make significant progress toward ending Burma’s six-decade long, low-grade civil war. While it succeeded in bringing new ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) into the discussions, some EAOs who had attended the first conference (held last autumn) did not participate. The NLD-led government, the Burmese military (or Tatmadaw), and the eight EAOs that signed the so-called “nationwide ceasefire agreement”...

President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection: Toward Final Disclosure of Withheld Records in October 2017

Congress enacted the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 (JFK Records Act), as amended, to bring together all materials related to the November 22, 1963, assassination of the 35th President that were created or held by a government office, and to house those records in a single collection in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Today, NARA reports that there are 268,116 records comprising more than 5 million pages of paper documents in the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection. Of those, NARA states that...

President’s FY2018 Budget Proposes Cuts in Public Health Service (PHS) Agency Funding

The President’s FY2018 budget proposes significant reductions in funding for the Public Health Service (PHS) agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services. The budget reflects the PHS agency funding priorities outlined in the budget blueprint released in March. Among other things, the President’s budget would cut funding for medical research, public health prevention programs, and mental health services.

The proposed cuts are to discretionary funding, which is controlled through the annual appropriations process. PHS agencies also receive funding from various mandatory...

The United States Withdraws from the TPP

On January 23, President Trump directed the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to withdraw the United States as a signatory to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement; the acting USTR gave notification to that effect on January 30. The TPP is a proposed free trade agreement (FTA), signed by the United States and 11 Asia-Pacific countries on February 4, 2016. The agreement requires ratification by the member countries before it can become effective. Implementing legislation, the vehicle for U.S. ratification, was not submitted by the President or considered by Congress, in part...

Iran’s Presidential Elections

Election and Implications

Iranians went to the polls on May 19, 2017, to vote for president and municipal officials countrywide amid tensions between Iran and the United States. With a 73% turnout of eligible voters, Iran’s Interior Ministry declared the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani the winner late on May 19, winning 57% of the vote to that of his strongest competitor, Ibrahim Raisi, who garnered 38% of the vote. Remaining candidates and invalid votes accounted for the remainder.

In 2013, Rouhani received 50.7% of the votes, narrowly avoiding a run-off in a divided field that...

North American Free Trade Agreement: Notification for Renegotiation

On May 18, 2017, the Trump Administration sent a 90-day notification to Congress of its intent to begin talks with Canada and Mexico to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) (see CRS In Focus IF10047, North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)). Under U.S. Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) (P.L. 114-26), the President must consult with Congress before giving the required 90-day notice of his intention to start negotiations (see CRS In Focus IF10297, TPP-Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) Timeline). Newly confirmed U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), Ambassador Robert...

NATO Funding and Burdensharing

President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet with NATO heads of state and government in Brussels on May 25, 2017. This will be the President’s first collective meeting with his counterparts from NATO’s other 27 member states. President Trump is expected to continue to strongly urge NATO members to increase defense spending and enhance military capabilities.

For numerous reasons—not least the United States’ status as the world’s preeminent military power—U.S. defense spending levels long have been significantly higher than those of any other NATO ally. Since NATO’s founding, successive U.S....

Reid Vapor Pressure Requirements for Ethanol

Legislation has been introduced in Congress (H.R. 1311, S. 517) that would give ethanol-gasoline fuel blends containing greater than 10% ethanol (e.g., E15, an ethanol-gasoline fuel blend of 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline) a waiver from the Clean Air Act (CAA) requirement that gasoline meet strict limits on volatility. At present, E15 cannot be sold during summer months because it does not meet the Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) requirements for the summer ozone season (generally June 1-September 15). This waiver could be a favorable development to some stakeholders that want increased market...

A Little Old, a Little New: The Cybersecurity Executive Order

The President signed Executive Order 13800 (EO) on May 11, 2017, titled “Strengthening the Cybersecurity of Federal Networks and Critical Infrastructure.” Combined with the President’s budget blueprint and recent EO establishing the American Technology Council, these documents lay out the Administration’s policy agenda concerning national cybersecurity—which to date focuses on improving federal information technology (IT) systems. The proposals contained in the EO echo proposals from the previous Administration and recent legislative activity.

Federal Network Cybersecurity

The new EO...

OPEC and Non-OPEC Crude Oil Production Agreement: Compliance Status

Founded in 1960 by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) currently has 13 member countries that represent approximately 40% of global oil (e.g., crude oil, condensate, natural gas liquids) production. OPEC can influence global oil prices through coordinated production decisions that can impact the global oil market supply and demand balance. Additionally, through statements and announcements, OPEC and member countries can affect oil market sentiment that can influence oil prices.

Oil supply decisions by OPEC and its...

EPA’s and BLM’s Methane Rules

In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) promulgated separate regulations intended to control “methane emissions” at crude oil and natural gas production facilities. Some stakeholders have argued that the EPA and BLM rules are duplicative and outside of the agencies’ statutory authorities. The BLM rule was eligible for consideration under the Congressional Review Act, and on February 3, 2017, the House passed a joint resolution of disapproval (H.J.Res. 36) to repeal it. The Senate rejected the motion to proceed to H.J.Res. 36 on May...

USDA Announces Plans to Modify School Meal Nutrition Standards: Background and Context

On May 1, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plans to make changes to nutrition standards for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program; he also signed a proclamation to this effect. The proclamation describes plans to relax whole grain, sodium, and milk requirements but does not mention changes to other aspects of the meals’ nutrition standards. The current standards were largely finalized via regulation in 2012 in accordance with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-296) and were championed...

Review of Offshore Energy Leasing: President Trump’s Executive Order

On April 28, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order (E.O.) on U.S. offshore energy strategy. The E.O. declares a policy goal of fostering U.S. energy leadership and energy security by encouraging energy development, while ensuring that activities are safe and environmentally responsible. In support of this goal, the E.O.

directs the Secretary of the Interior to review and consider revising the federal offshore oil and gas leasing schedule and other policies established by the Obama Administration and

modifies earlier presidential withdrawals of offshore areas from leasing...

Emerging Infectious Disease: Yellow Fever in Brazil

Introduction

Yellow fever is a disease transmitted by mosquitoes endemic in 47 countries across sub-Saharan Africa and South America (see Figure 1). Roughly 90% of annual yellow fever cases typically occur in sub-Saharan Africa. An ongoing yellow fever outbreak in Brazil and the re-emergence of the disease across South America is the latest event highlighting the global threat of emerging infectious diseases (EID). All of the countries in South America that detected cases in 2016 (Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Suriname) have contained the outbreaks except Brazil. As of May...

Trade Implications of the President’s Buy American Executive Order

With the April 18, 2017, issuance of President Trump’s Executive Order on Buy American and Hire American, U.S. procurement obligations with 57 countries under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and other U.S. free trade agreements (FTAs) are coming under scrutiny. Some may question whether the order, when implemented, could conflict with current U.S. obligations under these agreements. More specifically, could the EO run counter to U.S. policy on government procurement, which generally seeks to balance...

Executive Order for Review of National Monuments

The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the President to proclaim national monuments on federal lands that contain “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.” The President is to reserve “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” From 1906 to date, Presidents have established 157 monuments and have enlarged, diminished, or otherwise modified previously proclaimed monuments.

On April 26, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order requiring the Secretary of the...

China’s February 2017 Suspension of North Korean Coal Imports

On February 18, 2017, China’s Ministry of Commerce and its General Administration of Customs jointly announced a suspension of China’s imports of coal from North Korea, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), for the remainder of 2017. The suspension appeared to signal China’s intention to keep its 2017 imports of North Korean coal in line with United Nations restrictions imposed in November 2016 in response to Pyongyang’s continued development of its nuclear and missile programs. China’s announcement came at a time when the Trump Administration was calling on China...

U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominations: Comparative Statistics of Two-Term Presidencies Since 1945

This Insight provides comparative statistics related to the nomination and confirmation of U.S. circuit and district court judges during the eighth year of two-term presidencies since 1945 (i.e., the Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama presidencies). It also provides cumulative comparative statistics for the entire terms of these same six presidencies. Previous CRS research has analyzed final Senate action on judicial nominations during the eighth year of the Reagan, Clinton, and George W. Bush presidencies.

Nominees Confirmed During a President’s Eighth Year

As...

Airline Passenger Denied Boarding: Rules and Regulations

The removal of a seated passenger from a full United Airlines flight on April 9, 2017, has spurred discussions about federal regulation of airline overbooking. Overbooking is a carrier’s intentional acceptance of more reservations for a specific flight than the number of seats available on the aircraft. It is not illegal for airlines to overbook, and the practice occurs frequently. In many cases passengers are unaware that a flight is overbooked, because “no shows” or last-minute cancellations leave sufficient room for all ticketed passengers.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)...

New Canadian Dairy Pricing Regime Proves Disruptive for U.S. Milk Producers

A new pricing regime—the National Ingredient Strategy—that was introduced in Canada in February 2017 for certain dairy product ingredients is creating negative spillover effects for some U.S. dairy product exports and for certain milk producers in border states whose milk deliveries to processors are dependent upon this trade.

Press reports indicate that some 75 dairy farms in Wisconsin have been advised that their milk delivery contracts with a local milk processor will not be renewed as of May 1, 2017, because of the new pricing regime in Canada. Some dairy farmers in Minnesota have...

Turkey: Erdogan’s Referendum Victory Delivers “Presidential System”

Based on unofficial results released by Turkish officials, constitutional changes to establish a “presidential system” in Turkey appear to have been adopted via a 51.4% favorable vote in an April 16, 2017, nationwide referendum. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had campaigned vigorously in support of the changes after obtaining the requisite parliamentary approval with the support of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) in January 2017. Assuming the outcome holds despite some allegations of irregularities, most of the changes—including the...

OMB Lifts Hiring Freeze and Issues Plan to Reduce and Reform the Federal Civilian Workforce

On April 12, 2017, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney issued a memorandum titled, “Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce.” The memorandum lifts the hiring freeze instituted by President Donald Trump on January 23, 2017.

In addition, the memorandum sets forth steps that executive branch departments and agencies must take to fulfill other requirements of the hiring freeze memorandum and the March 13, 2017, Executive Order 13781 on reorganizing the executive branch. These directives, respectively,...

Westinghouse Bankruptcy Filing Could Put New U.S. Nuclear Projects at Risk

Westinghouse Electric Company, a major nuclear technology firm that supplied nearly half of the 99 currently operating U.S. commercial reactors, filed for bankruptcy reorganization on March 29, 2017. The bankruptcy filing raised fundamental questions about the future of the U.S. nuclear power industry, and particularly whether four new reactors that Westinghouse is constructing for electric utilities in Georgia and South Carolina will be completed. The four reactors are the first to begin construction in the United States since the mid-1970s, and the nuclear industry had hoped they would...

The Marshall Plan: 70th Anniversary

June 5, 2017, marks the 70th anniversary of the Marshall Plan—considered by many to be one of the most successful foreign policy initiatives and foreign aid programs ever undertaken by the United States.

In a speech at Harvard University on June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George Marshall suggested that, if European countries working together came up with a proposal, the United States would be willing to provide assistance in response to the dire political, social, and economic conditions in which Europe found itself at that time. The speech set in motion a diplomatic and legislative train...

Regulation of Pesticide Residues in Food and Recent Actions on Chlorpyrifos

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA; 7 U.S.C. 136 et seq.) requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to promulgate, in accordance with Section 408 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA; 21 U.S.C. 346a), maximum permissible levels (tolerances) for pesticide residues that raw agricultural commodities and processed food may legally contain. Under FFDCA, EPA has established tolerances that vary based on the commodity for more than 350 pesticide active ingredients (40 C.F.R. Part 180). Tolerances and the process for establishing them have...

Fees Assessed on Pesticide Registrants: Reauthorization and Proposed Amendments

Pursuant to the Pesticide Registration Improvement Extension Act of 2012 (PRIA 3; P.L. 112-177), Congress authorized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to collect two categories of fees to support the agency’s pesticide regulatory program and related activities. EPA’s authority to collect one of these fees—pesticide maintenance fees—expires at the end of FY2017. The authority to collect the other fees—pesticide registration service fees—begins to phase out at the end of FY2017. The Pesticide Registration Enhancement Act of 2017 (H.R. 1029, H.Rept. 115-49), passed by the House...

The Revenue Baseline for Tax Reform

Tax reform remains an issue of interest in the 115th Congress. An open policy question is whether any proposed tax reform might increase the projected budget deficit, reduce the deficit, or leave the deficit unchanged (i.e., be revenue neutral). To inform this debate, this Insight provides information on the current revenue baseline as calculated by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). This Insight also discusses how the enactment of changes in tax policy can potentially change the baseline, and implications of these changes for subsequent legislation, such as tax reform. This Insight...

Pipeline Security: Recent Attacks

Domestic Pipeline Sabotage

Recent acts of sabotage against U.S. pipelines have raised concern about the security of the nation’s energy pipeline system and the federal program to protect them. On March 20, 2017, the developer of the Dakota Access Pipeline alleged in a court filing that it had experienced “recent coordinated physical attacks along the pipeline.” On February 26, 2017, law officers fatally shot a man who reportedly had used an assault rifle to attack the Sabal Trail Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline under construction in Florida. On October 11, 2016, a coordinated group of...

California Drought: Busted?

Surface water conditions in California have recovered dramatically in recent months, but some consequences of the 2012-2016 drought likely will linger for years. This Insight discusses the status of the drought and how it affected groundwater supplies: declines in groundwater levels, decreased storage capacity, and land subsidence. In response to the drought, the 114th Congress enacted legislation (P.L. 114-322) that altered the authorities regarding how federal water infrastructure in the state is managed and how new water storage may be developed. (See CRS In Focus IF10626, Reclamation...

The Value of Energy Tax Incentives Across Energy Resources: Trends over Time

Over time, the proportion of energy-specific tax incentives benefitting different energy resources has shifted. Figure 1 illustrates the value of energy-related tax incentives since 1978. Energy tax provisions are categorized as primarily benefitting fossil fuels, renewables, renewable fuels, efficiency, vehicles, or some other energy purpose. Earlier versions of Figure 1 have appeared in past Congressional Research Service reports (R41953 and R41227). Similar figures have also appeared in Congressional Budget Office (CBO) publications in 2012, 2015, and 2017. See these resources for...

FirstNet’s Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network Moves Forward

On March 30, 2017, FirstNet announced a public-private partnership with AT&T to build a dedicated interoperable wireless broadband network for use by public safety agencies nationwide. Under terms of the 25-year agreement, FirstNet will provide AT&T with up to $6.5 billion for initial network construction over the next five years. Additionally, AT&T will spend about $40 billion of its own funds to build, operate, and maintain the network over the life of the contract. To conduct the buildout, AT&T has assembled a team including Motorola Solutions, General Dynamics, Sapient Consulting,...

Scientific Basis of Environmental Protection Agency Actions: H.R. 1430 and H.R. 1431

The scientific basis of regulation is a long-standing issue. In the 115th Congress, H.R. 1430 and H.R. 1431 are intended to address the public disclosure and transparency of information used as the basis for environmental regulations and other actions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These bills would amend the Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act of 1978 (ERDDAA), among other purposes, to require public disclosure of scientific and technical information that EPA uses as a basis for agency action. On March 29, 2017, the House passed...

The Army’s Sustainable Readiness Model (SRM)

The Army’s Definition of Readiness

The Army defines readiness as the capability of its forces to conduct the full range of military operations, including the defeat of all enemies regardless of the threats they pose. In this regard, readiness is a function of how well units are manned, equipped, trained, and led.

Past Army Readiness Models

Readiness models are the means by which the Army generates the forces that are then made available to Combatant Commanders for operations. From the 1980s until 2001, the Army employed a Tiered Readiness Model with units manned, equipped, and trained at...

Expiring Funds for Primary Care

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), enacted on March 23, 2010, appropriated billions of dollars of mandatory funds to support new and existing grant programs and other activities. Specifically, it provided support for three programs focused on expanding access to primary care services for populations that are typically underserved. The first two were existing programs—the Health Centers program and the National Health Service Corps (NHSC)—and they were funded through a new mandatory funding stream, the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF). The third program, created in the ACA, is the Teaching...

Overview of CEQ Guidance on Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change

In 1997, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) informed federal agencies that, to ensure compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), they may need to consider whether their actions may affect or be affected by climate change. CEQ issued revised draft guidance in 2010 and again in 2014. On August 1, 2016—after receiving public comments and other feedback from Members of Congress, state agencies, tribes, corporations, trade associations, and other stakeholders—CEQ released final guidance (hereinafter, the Guidance) on consideration of greenhouse gas (GHG)...

President’s Budget Blueprint Seeks Changes for Public Health Service Agencies

The White House has released a “budget blueprint” that outlines President Trump’s priorities for funding the federal government in FY2018. The document covers only discretionary spending, which is controlled through the annual appropriations process. It does not address mandatory spending—including spending on entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security—or interest payments on the federal debt. The complete FY2018 budget is expected to be released in May.

Although the budget blueprint provides limited details on the agency, account, or program level, it indicates Trump...

Keystone XL Pipeline: Development Issues

Keystone XL Presidential Permit

On March 23, 2017, the U.S. State Department issued a Presidential Permit for the border facilities of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, having determined that issuing the permit “would serve the national interest.” If constructed, the pipeline would transport oil sands crude from Canada as well as oil produced in North Dakota and Montana to a hub in Nebraska for further delivery to Gulf Coast refineries (Figure 1). The U.S. pipeline section would be 875 miles long with the capacity to deliver 830,000 barrels per day. Keystone XL requires a Presidential...

The Federal Coal Leasing Moratorium

The Federal Coal Leasing Moratorium

Recent Events

The Trump Administration issued an Executive Order on March 28, 2017, that would amend or withdraw Secretarial Order 3338 and lift “any and all” moratoria on federal coal leasing.

On January 11, 2017, the Obama Administration published its scoping report (Bureau of Land Management, Federal Coal Program: Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement—Scoping Report, Volumes I and II, January 2017) as a prelude to the comprehensive Draft and Final PEIS. After six public meetings and over 214,000 comments, the BLM concluded that modernizing the...

The President’s FY2018 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of Agriculture

Background

The Trump Administration released its first budget request on March 16, 2017. Titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” the request for FY2018 does not have the detail of a regular budget (see CRS Report RS20752, Submission of the President’s Budget in Transition Years).

The FY2018 Blueprint addresses discretionary spending only and primarily conveys information at the Cabinet level. While it highlights changes to some programs, the request remains vague about the effect on most agencies. A more detailed budget is expected in May 2017 and may...

EPA’s Mid-Term Evaluation of Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards

The One National Program

In 2009, the Obama Administration—through authorities provided to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—developed joint standards for fuel economy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for new light-duty vehicles (defined generally as passenger cars and light trucks). The standards (referred to as the One National Program) were established in two phases: Phase 1 for vehicle model years (MY) 2012-2016, finalized on May 7, 2010; and Phase 2 for MY2017-2025, finalized on October 15, 2012. The agencies...

Phase 2 Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Heavy-Duty Vehicles

On October 25, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration jointly published the second phase of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty engines and vehicles through their authorities under the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-140).

The Phase 2 rule sets emission standards for tractor-trailers, vocational vehicles, and heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans. The rule expands on the Phase 1 standards (promulgated in 2011 for model...

CRS Products on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) signed by the United States and 11 other Asia-Pacific countries on February 4, 2016, and would require ratification by the member countries before it can take effect. On January 30, 2017, the United States gave notice to the other signatories that it does not intend to ratify the agreement, effectively ending, at least for the time being, the ratification process in the United States and the agreement’s possible entry into force. The TPP as signed cannot enter into force without U.S. participation, due to a...

DOD Issues Additional Guidance on Federal Hiring Freeze

On February 2, 2017, the Department of Defense (DOD) issued initial guidance on implementing the federal hiring freeze instituted by President Trump—an order that suspends the hiring of civilian employees in the executive branch. On March 7, 2017, the DOD issued additional guidance (available upon request) that supplements the initial guidance by

adding new exemptions from the freeze for (1) essential military and base operating services, (2) infrastructure sustainment, and (3) family readiness programs;

delegating exemption approval authority to lower-level officials for exemptions...

The Dutch Parliamentary Elections: Outcome and Implications

The March 15, 2017, parliamentary elections in the Netherlands garnered considerable attention as the first in a series of European contests this year in which populist, antiestablishment parties have been poised to do well, with possibly significant implications for the future of the European Union (EU). For many months, opinion polls projected an electoral surge for the far-right, anti-immigrant, anti-EU Freedom Party (PVV), led by Geert Wilders. Many in the EU were relieved when the PVV fell short and the center-right, pro-EU People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), led by...

Should the U.S. Trade Deficit be Redefined?

The U.S. merchandise trade deficit represents the difference between a country’s exports and imports of goods. For some, the trade deficit is a flashpoint for concerns about the overall condition of the economy. Most economists argue this characterization misrepresents the nature of the trade deficit and the role of trade in the economy. Some policymakers support redefining the trade deficit in ways that would effectively increase the size of the deficit by more narrowly defining an export. Others argue that U.S. trade data should be redefined in ways that capture value added through...

SBA Transition Issues

Much of the federal government, including the Small Business Administration (SBA), is in transition as the Trump Administration assumes leadership of the executive branch. At the SBA, among the Trump Administration’s first tasks are to populate the SBA with its appointees, starting with new SBA Administrator Linda E. McMahon to succeed Maria Contreras-Sweet, and establish its policy agenda for small businesses. One of the first policy questions facing the Trump Administration is whether it will continue, modify, or end several Obama Administration initiatives, including 7(a) loan guaranty...

Moving On: TPP Signatories Meet in Chile

On March 14-15, representatives from the 12 original signatories to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement (FTA) met in Chile to discuss the future direction of regional integration efforts in the Asia-Pacific (see CRS In Focus IF10000, TPP: Overview and Current Status). China, Colombia, and South Korea were also represented. The meeting follows the Trump Administration’s January announcement of U.S. withdrawal from the TPP, which effectively ended the possibility of TPP’s entry into force in its current form (see CRS Insight IN10646, The United States Withdraws...

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings for Supreme Court Nominations: Historical Overview and Data

After a President submits a Supreme Court nomination to the Senate, the Judiciary Committee assumes the principal responsibility for investigating the background and qualifications of each Supreme Court nominee. Since the late 1960s, the Judiciary Committee’s consideration of a Supreme Court nomination typically has consisted of three distinct stages—(1) a pre-hearing investigative stage, followed by (2) public hearings, and concluding with (3) a committee decision as to whether to recommend approval of the nomination by the full Senate. This CRS Insight provides an historical overview of...

German Chancellor Angela Merkel Visits President Trump

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House on March 17, 2017. The meeting—the first between the two leaders—comes amid uncertainty and unease in Europe about the direction of U.S.-German and U.S.-European relations during the Trump Administration. Merkel has led Europe’s largest and most prosperous country for almost 12 years and is widely viewed as the most influential political leader in Europe. Most analysts agree that the U.S.-German relationship could play a pivotal role in guiding U.S. policy toward Europe and vice...

U.S. World War I (1917-1918) Centennial

Background and Congressional Action

April 6, 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Declaration of War resolution against Germany and subsequent entry in “The Great War” (World War I). The United States remained neutral as war raged in Europe from summer 1914 to spring 1917. However, matters changed when Germany broke its pledge to limit submarine warfare in January 1917.

In response to the breaking of the Sussex pledge, the United States severed diplomatic relations with Germany. On January 16, 1917, British cryptographers deciphered a telegram from German Foreign Minister Arthur...

Taxpayers with Zero Income Tax Liability: Trends Over Time and Across Income Levels

An estimated 44% of U.S. households will pay no federal income tax in 2016. Some individuals or households do not pay federal income taxes because their income was below the filing threshold. Other individuals or households filing federal income tax returns pay no federal income tax due to either structural features or special provisions in the tax code. A 2011 analysis found that of nontaxable “tax units,” about half were made nontaxable by tax expenditures (special provisions in the tax code such as credits and deductions). The other half were made nontaxable by structural features of...

A Change in Direction for Seoul? The Impeachment of South Korea’s President

On March 10, 2017, South Korea’s Constitutional Court unanimously voted to uphold the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye, nearly 11 months before her term was due to end. The decision was the latest development in a corruption scandal that has engulfed South Korean politics and the business world since October 2016, and comes against the backdrop of North Korean missile tests, Chinese anger at the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system in South Korea, and uncertainties about the direction of U.S. foreign policy under the Trump Administration. By law, South Korea must hold...

Protests in Cameroon: Context and Issues for Congress

Since late 2016, members of Cameroon’s minority Anglophone community have demonstrated against their perceived marginalization, exposing historic fissures in Cameroon’s diverse society and placing further strain on a government facing serious political and security challenges. The administration of long-serving President Paul Biya has responded forcefully, prompting international criticism. The unrest may be of interest to some Members of Congress, given possible implications for stability in Central Africa and U.S.-Cameroonian security cooperation to counter Boko Haram, the...

Northern Ireland’s Snap Assembly Elections: Outcome and Implications

On March 2, 2017, voters in Northern Ireland—which is one of four component “nations” of the United Kingdom (UK)—went to the polls in snap elections for Northern Ireland’s Assembly, its regional legislature. The Assembly is a key institution in Northern Ireland’s devolved government, in which specified powers have been transferred from London to Belfast, as set out in the 1998 peace agreement aimed at ending Northern Ireland’s 30-year sectarian conflict (in which almost 3,500 people died). The peace accord mandated that power in the devolved government would be shared between Northern...

Resolutions of Inquiry in the House

A resolution of inquiry is a simple House resolution (H.Res.) making a direct request or demand of the President or the head of an executive department to furnish the House with specific factual information in the Administration’s possession.

Under clause 7 of House Rule XIII, such resolutions, if properly drafted, are given a special parliamentary status. If the committee to which such a resolution is referred has not reported the measure back to the House within 14 legislative days after its introduction, a privileged and non-debatable motion to discharge the committee of further...

S. 385: The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2017 (Portman-Shaheen Bill)

S. 385 Provisions

Also known as the Portman-Shaheen bill, S. 385 has four energy efficiency titles (buildings, industry, federal agencies, and regulatory measures) and one title on budget matters.

Title I would update model building energy codes and encourage adoption by state and local governments and American Indian Tribes (§101); authorize grants to universities to establish building training and assessment centers (§111); authorize matching grants to nonprofit organizations to train industry-certified installers of energy-efficient technologies (§112); and provide technical assistance...

The Greek Debt Crisis: Continuing Challenges

Nearly seven years after receiving its first financial rescue package, the Greek government continues to grapple with a serious debt crisis. Most economists believe that Greece’s public debt, more than 180% of Greek gross domestic product (GDP), is unsustainable. The ramifications of the debt have been felt throughout the Greek economy, which contracted by more than 25% from its pre-crisis level. Nearly a quarter of Greeks are unemployed.

In the immediate term, attention is focused on whether the Greek government will be able to make 6.3 billion (about $6.7 billion) in debt payments...

Transatlantic Relations: Change or Continuity?

Since the end of World War II, successive U.S. Administrations and many Members of Congress have supported a strong transatlantic relationship, largely built upon the pillars of NATO and the European Union (EU), and a shared U.S.-European commitment to an open international trading system. The creation of NATO was meant to provide collective defense and a U.S. security umbrella, while U.S. policymakers viewed the European integration project as a way to keep European nationalism in check, prevent another catastrophic conflict on the Continent, and entrench democratic systems and free...

Oil Market Effects of a Tax on Mexican Imports

In 2016, the United States imported 588 thousand barrels per day (m/d) of Mexican crude oil valued at $7.6 billion. Recently, the Trump Administration floated the idea of imposing of a 20% tax on imports from Mexico, presumably including crude oil imports, to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. Although subsequent Administration statements have raised doubts about this specific proposal, a tax on Mexican crude oil could have implications for the North American oil market. Effects on the relative prices of crude oil in the region could create market inefficiencies...

Current Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Issues

Little detail is currently available about the Trump Administration’s agenda for missile defense and whether current policy or program direction might change. The Administration has thus far said only that it will “develop a state-of-the-art missile defense system to protect against missile-based system attacks from states like Iran and North Korea.” A detailed defense budget will not be presented until later this spring, so there is uncertainty as to what precisely the BMD budget and program will look like. Ongoing BMD issues of interest to Congress are summarized below.

Legislative...

Challenges for U.S. Policymakers in Latin America and the Caribbean

The Latin American and Caribbean region has made significant political and economic advances over the past three decades, but challenges remain. Regular free and fair elections are the norm in most countries; in 2017, presidential elections are scheduled for Ecuador in February and Chile and Honduras in November, while parliamentary elections are due in the Bahamas by May. The quality of democracy, however, has eroded in several countries affected by organized crime, corruption, and the executive’s abuse of power. The rise of leftist populism, most prominently in Venezuela, has led to the...

Sanctuary Jurisdictions: Congressional Action and President Trump’s Interior Enforcement Executive Order

President Trump’s executive order (EO) “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” issued on January 25, 2017, seeks, among other things, to penalize “sanctuary jurisdictions.” The latter is an informal term referring to states and localities that limit their cooperation with federal agencies on immigration law enforcement. In the immigration context, the EO may raise legal questions about the extent to which states and localities must comply with federal immigration law enforcement efforts and the potential consequences for not cooperating with these efforts.

What Are...

Army Corps Easement Process and Dakota Access Pipeline Easement Status

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is a 1,172-mile pipeline system to transport oil from North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline’s developer is pursuing a route that would cross under the Missouri River on federally owned land in North Dakota at the Lake Oahe project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). Public debate and litigation over the pipeline has raised questions for Congress regarding the Corps’ process for granting pipeline easements to cross federally owned, Corps-managed land (hereinafter referred to as Corps land), including the scope of impacts considered, especially oil...

The Federal Budget Deficit and the Business Cycle

The annual federal budget deficit has fallen significantly over the course of the current economic expansion, from a high of 9.8% of gross domestic product (GDP) in FY2009 to 3.2% of GDP in FY2016. However, the debt held by the public has continued to increase, and was equal to 77.0% of GDP at the end of FY2016, the highest level since FY1950. This Insight discusses how deficits responded to previous expansions and recessions. Based on historical experience, recent trends toward achieving fiscal sustainability are likely to reverse the next time the economy enters a recession.

The Deficit...

“Fiscal Space” and the Federal Budget

Policymakers are interested in the concept of “fiscal space,” or the amount of room available for additional government borrowing, as they discuss plans for the federal budget. Though budget deficits have declined in recent years, debt held by the public was estimated to equal 77.0% of gross domestic product (GDP) at the end of FY2016, which would represent the highest ratio since FY1950. This Insight examines contributing factors to fiscal space availability and discusses recent developments. Assuming a continuation of low interest rates, it is unlikely that fiscal space will constrain...

More Low-Cost Transatlantic Flights May Shake Airline Industry

On December 2, 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued its final decision approving Norwegian Air International’s (NAI’s) application for a foreign air carrier permit to operate transatlantic flights to U.S. destinations. This action is expected to lead to a substantial increase in discount airline service across the North Atlantic over the next few years.

DOT approval came after contentious exchanges between opponents and supporters and was deferred for three years after NAI submitted its application on December 2, 2013. DOT’s delay in granting or denying the permit led...

Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs)

The executive order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” issued on January 27, 2017, includes provisions to generally suspend the entry into the United States of immigrant and nonimmigrant visa holders from seven countries. These provisions have raised questions about the Iraqi and Afghan special immigrant visa (SIV) programs, which enable certain individuals who have worked for the U.S. government in Iraq or Afghanistan to become lawful permanent residents (LPRs) of the United States. Iraq is among the seven countries referenced in the executive...

Iran Missile Tests and Sanctions

Policy Context

On February 1, 2017, the Trump Administration announced that it was “officially putting Iran on notice” for recent actions that “threaten U.S. friends and allies in the region,” including the January 29 test of a ballistic missile and “weapons transfers [to groups such as Houthi rebels in Yemen], support for terrorism, and other violations of international norms.” The July 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran, the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA), does not restrict Iran’s ballistic missile programs. However, U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which...

USDA Releases GIPSA Rules

On December 20, 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) released the Farmer Fair Practices Rules consisting of an interim final rule and two proposed rules that address marketing and competition issues for livestock and poultry markets. GIPSA initially proposed these rules in 2010 to implement 2008 farm bill (P.L. 110-246) provisions, and they are commonly referred to as the “GIPSA rule.”

The GIPSA rule was intended to ensure fair competition in livestock and poultry markets by clarifying what constituted a...

Why Did March 2016 U.N. Sanctions Not Curb China’s Imports of Coal from North Korea?

On March 2, 2016, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2270 (UNSCR 2270), imposing new sanctions on North Korea (also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) in response to the country’s fourth nuclear test. One target of the resolution was North Korea’s income from coal. North Korea’s annual earnings from coal exports were estimated to be “approximately a billion dollars,” according to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Samantha Power. She said UNSCR 2270’s limits on coal and other North Korean exports would make it “tougher for...

“El Chapo” Guzmán’s Extradition: What’s Next for U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation?

The notorious drug trafficking kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is in U.S. custody, following the Mexican government’s high-profile decision to extradite him to the United States on January 19, 2017, the day before President Donald J. Trump took office. According to a 2016 superseding indictment filed with the Eastern District Court of New York, Guzmán is charged with operating a continuing criminal enterprise and conducting drug-related crimes as the purported leader of the Mexican criminal syndicate commonly known as the Sinaloa Cartel. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration,...

President Trump’s Executive Order on Suspending Entry of Select Foreign Nationals: The Seven Countries

On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order (EO) entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” Invoking Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) §212(f), the President barred citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days, with limited exceptions for those traveling on diplomatic and certain other types of visas. The action has given rise to the question of how these seven countries were selected.

The EO does not specifically mention the seven countries. Instead, the EO...

Mexican-U.S. Relations: Increased Tensions

On January 26, 2017, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto canceled an upcoming meeting with President Donald J. Trump after exchanges between the two leaders over social media concerning U.S. policies toward Mexico. In an address on January 25, President Peña Nieto vowed to protect Mexican migrants in the United States who are vulnerable to deportation and reiterated Mexico’s refusal to pay for a border wall but also stated his “willingness to reach agreements” if they are in Mexico’s interest. Mexicans have strongly supported Peña Nieto’s actions with respect to President Trump. After a...

Foreign Assistance: The Mexico City Policy

On January 23, 2017, President Trump issued a memorandum reinstating the “Mexico City policy,” which requires foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) receiving certain types of U.S. assistance to certify that they will not perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning, even if such activities are conducted with non-U.S. funds.

Background and Context: Key Administration Actions

The Mexico City policy has remained a controversial issue in U.S. foreign assistance. Since it was first issued by President Reagan in 1984, the policy has been established and rescinded...

U.S. Circuit Court Vacancies at the Beginning and End of the Obama Presidency: Overview and Comparative Analysis

This Insight provides comparative historical data related to U.S. circuit court vacancies that existed at the beginning and end of the Obama presidency (as well as at the beginning and end of the presidencies of his two most recent predecessors, Presidents George W. Bush and Clinton). This Insight also provides a geographic overview of the location of circuit court vacancies that existed on President Obama’s final full day in office (i.e., on January 19, 2017), as well as the location of vacancies deemed “judicial emergencies” by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.

At present,...

U.S. District Court Vacancies at the Beginning and End of the Obama Presidency: Overview and Comparative Analysis

This Insight provides comparative historical data related to U.S. district court vacancies that existed at the beginning and end of the Obama presidency (as well as at the beginning and end of the presidencies of his two most recent predecessors, Presidents George W. Bush and Clinton). This Insight also provides a geographic overview of the location of district court vacancies that existed on President Obama’s final full day in office (i.e., on January 19, 2017), as well as the location of vacancies deemed “judicial emergencies” by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.

At present,...

U.S. Crude Oil Exports to International Destinations

On December 18, 2015, Congress passed H.R. 2029—the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016—which was signed into law as P.L. 114-113. A provision contained in P.L. 114-113 repealed a 40-year prohibition, with exceptions, on the export of crude oil produced in the United States. Removing this prohibition and its associated restrictions provides producers, shippers, and traders with options to market and sell crude oil internationally. Prior to the removal of export restrictions, exceptions resulted in approximately 500,000 barrels per day of crude oil exports—nearly all to Canada—during...

Trump Administration Changes to the National Security Council: Frequently Asked Questions

On January 28, 2017, the Trump Administration issued National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM) 2: Organization of the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council. The memorandum details how the executive branch intends to manage and coordinate national and homeland security issues among relevant departments and agencies. In keeping with the practices of prior administrations, the White House issued the memorandum early in its tenure. Since the memorandum was signed, some media reports have incorrectly characterized the manner in which the Trump administration appears...

United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Visits President Trump

The Special Relationship

On January 27, 2017, United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister Theresa May is scheduled to be the first foreign leader to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House. Officials on both sides regard the visit as an important opening discussion intended to set the tone of relations between the two leaders and reaffirm key priorities for the U.S.-UK “special relationship.” Many U.S. officials and Members of Congress have traditionally viewed the United Kingdom as the United States’ closest ally, citing the two countries’ extensive and long-standing cooperation on...

Suspension of Scheduled Fee Decrease for FHA-Insured Mortgages

In the final weeks of the Obama Administration, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) announced that it planned to reduce fees charged to households who obtained new FHA-insured mortgages. However, on January 20, the first day of the Trump Administration, FHA announced that it was suspending the planned fee decrease before it went into effect. This Insight describes FHA mortgage insurance fees and common arguments for and against decreasing them.

Background

Most mortgage lenders require homebuyers with down payments below 20% to purchase some kind of mortgage insurance that protects...

SEC Regulatory Accountability Act (H.R. 78) Would Require More SEC Cost-Benefit Analysis

The SEC Regulatory Accountability Act (H.R. 78) passed in the House of Representatives by a recorded vote of 243 to 184 on January 12, 2017. Under current law, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is required to perform certain cost-benefit analysis (CBA)—a systematic and sometimes quantified examination of potential economic costs and benefits resulting from the implementation of a proposed rule—as part of the rulemaking process. H.R. 78 would impose additional cost-benefit requirements for the SEC, would specify parameters and considerations that must be part of the analysis, and...

Russia and the U.S. Presidential Election

On January 6, 2016, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a declassified report on Russian activities and intentions related to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The report states that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Security Agency (NSA) have “high confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election” in order to “undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her...

Army Corps Projects and Tribal Consultation: Requirements, Policies, and Controversy

Much of the current congressional and public interest in tribal consultation related to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) water projects grew out of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) controversy. Part of the DAPL controversy involves easements at Corps projects for a private oil pipeline and how those easements may affect tribal resources—especially water supplies.

The Corps builds and operates water resource projects across the nation. The Corps’ inventory of water projects includes 702 dams and reservoirs and almost 12 million acres of Corps-owned or -managed lands. The Corps may...

Inspectors General in and Beyond the Presidential Transition Period

Much of the federal government is in transition, as a new Congress convenes and a new Administration prepares to assume leadership of the executive branch. In the coming months, Members will join congressional committees with jurisdictions and responsibilities that may be new to them, and they might seek resources to assist their oversight responsibilities. The 73 federal inspectors general (IGs) are among the resources from which Members might choose to help them in learning about the operations of government agencies. An IG’s knowledge of his or her affiliated agency may be of assistance...

Vermont Utility Cybersecurity Alarm

A recent report in the Washington Post stated that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electricity grid, after malware said to be associated with a Russian hacking group was found on a Vermont utility company computer. However, a follow-up story in the Washington Post quoted U.S. government sources as saying “that the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility.”

The cybersecurity alarm was raised after a joint report last week by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) urged electric utilities to...

Expedited Procedures Governing Senate Consideration of Legislation Waiving a Restriction Related to the Military Service of the Secretary of Defense

Section 179 of the Further Continuing and Security Assistance Appropriations Act, 2017 (P.L. 114-254), establishes expedited or “fast track” parliamentary procedures governing Senate consideration of legislation that would waive a legal restriction related to the prior military service of the Secretary of Defense. Section 113(a) of Title 10 of the U.S. Code establishes that an individual “may not be appointed as Secretary of Defense within seven years after relief from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of an armed force.” Unless waived, this restriction could be...

The Impeachment of South Korea’s President

On December 9, South Korea’s National Assembly impeached President Park Geun-hye on charges of “extensive and serious violations of the Constitution and the law” stemming from a corruption scandal that, since late October, have brought millions of South Koreans to the streets in weekly anti-Park protests, the largest in the country’s history. The impeachment leaves the South Korean government under a caretaker government—albeit one appointed by Park—while she awaits a decision from the country’s Constitutional Court. The impeachment could complicate a number of U.S. foreign policy efforts...

OCC to Consider Issuing National Bank Charters to Fintech Company Applicants

On December 2, 2016, Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry announced in a speech that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) will “move forward with chartering financial technology [fintech’] companies that offer bank products and services and meet ... high standards and chartering requirements.” On the same day, the OCC released a white paper that examines issues related to such a charter and solicits comments from the public. This Insight examines special purpose charters for fintech companies, their possible benefits, and the concerns they create.

Fintech and...

Department of Education’s Withdrawal of Its Recognition of ACICS as an Accrediting Agency

On December 12, 2016, the Secretary of Education (the Secretary) upheld a previous decision made by a Department of Education (ED) official to withdraw recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accrediting agency for purposes of institutional participation in the federal student aid programs authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA). The complete effects of the Secretary’s recognition withdrawal are currently unknown; however, approximately 900 separate locations of institutions of higher education (IHEs), enrolling...

OSM Finalizes the Stream Protection Rule

On December 19, 2016, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) of the Department of the Interior promulgated a rule to improve implementation of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) and reduce impacts of coal mining operations on groundwater and surface water, fish, wildlife, and related environmental values. The rule, called the Stream Protection Rule, was published in the Federal Register on December 20. It is effective on January 19, 2017.

Development of the Stream Protection Rule has been underway since 2009 and has been contentious throughout...

Agency Final Rules Submitted on or After June 13, 2016, May Be Subject to Disapproval by the 115th Congress

With a change of presidential administrations taking place in January, some in Congress are paying renewed attention to a parliamentary mechanism that might enable the new Congress and the new President to overturn agency final rules of the Obama Administration issued after early June 2016.

The Congressional Review Act (5 U.S.C. §§801-808), enacted as part of the 104th Congress’s (1995-1996) “Contract with America,” established a special parliamentary mechanism whereby Congress can disapprove a final rule promulgated by a federal agency. While Congress has considered several CRA joint...

Restrictions on Lobbying the Government: Current Policy and Proposed Changes

During the 2016 presidential campaign, President-elect Donald Trump proposed a series of ethics measures, including several lobbying-related provisions. They are: extending “cooling off” periods on lobbying the government for five years after government service; “instituting a five-year ban on lobbying by former Members of Congress and their staffs”; expanding the definition of a lobbyist to cover former government officials who engage in strategic consulting; and issuing a “lifetime ban against senior executive branch officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign...

Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) and Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Compliance

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requires U.S. transportation fuel to contain a minimum volume of renewable fuel. Recent developments pertaining to the mandate—including recent market activity for the compliance system, letters from selected stakeholders about the compliance system to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the release of the 2017 final rule for the RFS—have placed an emphasis on RFS compliance not seen since 2013 and could lead to additional congressional interest. Some issues with RFS compliance touch on broader issues with the mandate; addressing these...

Statutory Restrictions Relating to Prior Military Service of the Secretary of Defense

By law, the Secretary of Defense, who has authority, direction, and control over the Department of Defense, is a civilian appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Section 113 of Title 10 of the U.S. Code provides that “[a] person may not be appointed as Secretary of Defense within seven years after relief from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of an armed force.” Since such statutory qualification provisions are created by law, they may also be changed, or alternatively, temporarily suspended for the benefit of a specific...

The Trump-Tsai Call and the United States’ “Unofficial” Relationship with Taiwan

President-elect Donald J. Trump’s telephone call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on December 2, 2016, and subsequent Tweets, broke precedent. No previous U.S. president or president-elect is known to have spoken directly to a president of Taiwan, which officially calls itself the Republic of China (ROC), since the United States broke diplomatic relations with the ROC and established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on January 1, 1979. The call has raised questions about whether Trump was simply taking “a very modest step toward providing Taiwan with some...

Democratic Republic of Congo: Targeted Sanctions

Congress has long focused on human rights and humanitarian hardship in war-ravaged eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, an epicenter of instability in Central Africa’s Great Lakes region. Recently, congressional attention has turned to DRC’s democratic trajectory and dynamics in the capital, Kinshasa. President Joseph Kabila’s effort to stay in office—which opposition and civil society activists view as unconstitutional—has spurred unrest and could become a violent crisis (see CRS Report R43166, Democratic Republic of Congo: Background and U.S. Relations).

In October, the DRC government...

State Programs for “Coal Ash” Disposal in the WIIN Act

On December 8, 2016, the House passed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN Act; as a substitute amendment to S. 612). Section 2301 of the WIIN Act would amend the Solid Waste Disposal Act (commonly referred to by its 1976 amendment, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or RCRA). Section 2301 would establish a framework for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve state programs implementing federal standards applicable to the disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCR, or “coal ash”) generated by electric utilities. Currently under RCRA, those...

Colombia Adopts Revised Peace Accord: What Next?

In an effort to end a half century of armed conflict between the largest leftist insurgent group in Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the Colombian government, a revised peace accord was signed in November 2016 by President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC’s leader, known as Timochenko. On November 30, 2016, the new accord was “ratified” by the Colombian Congress, first by the Colombian Senate by a vote of 75-0 (out of 101 Senators) and a day later by the lower house by a vote of 130-0 (out of 166). Congressional opponents either did not vote or walked out,...

International Insurance Issues and H.R. 5143

International insurance issues have been of interest to the 114th Congress with House subcommittee hearings in September 2016, February 2016, and April 2015, and several pieces of legislation introduced on the topic including S. 1086, H.R. 2141, and H.R. 5143. H.R. 5143 is scheduled for House floor action the week of December 5, 2016.

Background

Insurance regulation is centered on the states with only a limited federal role. Following the 2007-2009 financial crisis, the Dodd-Frank Act enhanced the federal role through several provisions, including the potential Financial Stability...

Ghana’s 2016 General Elections

Ghana's December 7, 2016 elections for president and parliament feature a rematch between incumbent President John Dramani Mahama and his National Democratic Congress (NDC), and the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) and its presidential contender, Nana Akufo-Addo, who is making his third run for the post. Other parties are participating, but they are all minor; roughly equal NDC and NPP political predominance have effectively created a two party system.

Background

Ghana has held six multi-party elections since its 1992 transition from military rule. The 2016 election is widely expected...

Industry Divided over Biodiesel Tax Credit

The federal biodiesel tax incentive of $1 per gallon (26 U.S.C. 40A), expires at the end of 2016. The credit was created by the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-357) and has been renewed a number of times since then, most recently in December 2015 in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 (P.L. 114-113). On more than one occasion, the credit has been extended retroactively, as it was for 2015. The credit—and whether it should be repositioned to incentivize domestic production only—is of particular interest to many because in recent years biodiesel imports have increased at a...

Fidel Castro’s Death: Implications for Cuba and U.S. Policy

The death of Cuba’s former long-time ruler Fidel Castro on November 25, 2016, raises questions regarding Cuba’s economic and political situation and the future of U.S. policy toward Cuba. The revolutionary leader overthrew an unpopular dictatorship in 1959, but ended up imposing a communist regime that led to some social progress yet also resulted in severe human rights abuses and a feeble economy. For a small island nation, Cuba played an oversized role in international affairs under Castro’s rule through its support for revolutionary movements abroad and its strong opposition to the...

Internet Sales and State Taxes: Policy Issues

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, many consumers will choose to buy gifts through online retailers rather than brick-and-mortar shops. While some consumers may choose to shop on the Internet for convenience, some might also be attracted to shopping online by the apparently lower prices, which do not always include sales and use tax. Customers who do not pay sales or use tax to the vendor are typically required to remit the tax to their home state. Customer compliance with this requirement, however, is very low.

In certain instances, the taxes are not included in the online...

European Union Efforts to Counter Disinformation

The European Union (EU) is increasingly concerned about the use of propaganda by both state and non-state actors and has sought to devise new strategies to combat disinformation. On November 23, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a resolution entitled “EU Strategic Communication to Counteract Anti-EU Propaganda by Third Parties.” In passing this non-binding resolution (by a vote of 304 to 179, with 208 abstentions), the EP added its support to European Union efforts to counter what Brussels believes are propaganda and disinformation campaigns against the EU and its member states by...

Can a New Administration Undo a Previous Administration’s Regulations?

Following the election of Donald J. Trump on November 8, 2016, questions have been raised as to whether and how a new President’s administration can amend or repeal regulations issued by the previous administration. In short, once a rule has been finalized, a new administration would be required to undergo the rulemaking process to change or repeal all or part of the rule. If a rule has not yet been finalized, however, a new President may be able, immediately upon taking office, to prevent the rule from being issued. In addition to these administrative actions, Congress can also take...

CRISPR: A Revolutionary Tool for Editing the Code of Life?

Genes, the fundamental code of life, are written in DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). Before DNA was even discovered, humans sought to manipulate it through selective breeding. Since its discovery, scientists, science fiction writers, philosophers, and others have speculated on the implications of being able to modify DNA. Over the last half century, billions of dollars and immeasurable effort have been devoted to understanding, characterizing, and controlling DNA. These efforts produced early gene editing tools and, in 2003, the completion of the Human Genome Project. Similar sequencing has...

Got Concrete Block? House Approves Mandatory Fees to Promote It

Since the 1970s, producers of certain agricultural commodities have been covered by checkoff programs to fund generic promotion activities (such as advertising “Got Milk?” and “Incredible Edible Egg”). These programs, sanctioned under federal law, have at times been controversial because they require affected producers and other market participants to pay assessments to cover the cost of these activities. Nonetheless, Congress has supported checkoff programs. On November 14, the House of Representatives approved a bill that would expand them far beyond agriculture—to concrete masonry....

China and the Hong Kong High Court Issue Decisions on Legislative Council Controversy (Update)

On November 7, 2016, China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) issued a decision concerning the oaths that Hong Kong officials, including legislators, must take before assuming office. Eight days later, Hong Kong’s High Court determined that two “pro-democracy” members-elect of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (Legco), Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, had “declined” to take the required oath on October 12, 2016, and are therefore “disqualified from assuming the office of a member of the Legco.” The NPCSC and High Court decisions may lead to efforts to...

Justice Department’s Role in Cyber Incident Response

Criminals and other malicious actors increasingly rely on the Internet and rapidly evolving technology to further their operations. They exploit cyberspace, where they can mask their identities and motivations. In this context, criminals can compromise financial assets, hactivists can flood websites with traffic—effectively shutting them down, and spies can steal intellectual property and government secrets.

When such cyber incidents occur, a number of issues arise, including how the government will react and which agencies will respond. These issues have been raised following a number of...

Moldova: A Pivotal Election?

Moldova’s presidential election, on October 30 and November 13, 2016, has occurred at a challenging time for this small state located between Romania and Ukraine. In the second round of the election, the Russian-leaning Socialist Party leader Igor Dodon won 52% of the vote and his competitor, former Minister of Education (and former World Bank economist) Maia Sandu, received 48%.

This is the first time since 1996 that Moldova’s president was elected by popular vote. Dodon has pledged to unite the country’s divided voters, but he has limited powers in Moldova’s largely parliamentary...

The $7 Billion Campaign? Understanding Campaign Finance Estimates

As election cycles end, campaign finance summaries are of interest in Congress, among researchers, and for the media, but figures can vary substantially by source, time period, and content. Even basic terminology often is inconsistent. This CRS “Insight” provides brief background information for congressional readers who are interpreting campaign finance summary data.

Recent Examples

Campaign finance estimates vary substantially and range from broad overviews to specific snapshots. Understanding the differences, and potential advantages and disadvantages of various approaches, requires...

Treasury’s Recent Report on Foreign Exchange Rate Policies

Treasury Reporting Requirements

In October 2016, the U.S. Department of Treasury released its semi-annual report, “Foreign Exchange Policies of Major Trading Partners of the United States.” This report responds to the new reporting requirements on exchange rates mandated in the Trade Facilitation and Enforcement Act of 2015 (P.L. 114-125), passed by Congress and signed by the President in February 2016. The legislation aims to strengthen mandated Treasury reporting and engagement on the exchange rate policies of major U.S. trading partners in force since 1988. The new reporting...

Elections Strengthen Georgia’s Ruling Party

On October 8, 2016, and October 30, 2016, the country of Georgia held parliamentary elections, which domestic and international observers assessed as democratic, despite isolated violations and violent incidents. The elections tested the resilience of Georgia’s ruling party, the center-left Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG), founded by oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili in 2012 to unseat the United National Movement (UNM), formerly led by Mikheil Saakashvili. GDDG won a resounding victory and is on track to enjoy a constitutional majority.

Support for the Georgian Dream

GDDG’s victory...

Did a Thermostat Break the Internet?

On September 20, 2016, the computer security blog KrebsonSecurity (Krebs) was hit with a massive attack —one that surpassed the scale of previously known attacks. One month later, on October 21, 2016, domain name system provider Dyn experienced a similar attack which prevented many users in the United States from accessing popular websites, such as Amazon, Reddit and Twitter.

Both these attacks have in common a malicious botnet named Mirai.

Botnets and Denial of Service Attacks

A botnet is a network of computers or other Internet-connected devices that an attacker has infected with...

The Precision Medicine Initiative

On February 25, 2016, the White House hosted a Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) Summit to mark the one year anniversary of the initiative’s launch, first announced in last year’s State of the Union address. The mission of the PMI is “(t)o enable a new era of medicine through research, technology, and policies that empower patients, researchers, and providers to work together toward development of individualized care.” The PMI primarily involves three federal agencies—the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Office of the National...

Yemen: Recent Attacks Against U.S. Naval Vessels in the Red Sea

Overview

In recent weeks, the United States has been drawn deeper into the Yemen war, which has killed an estimated 10,000 people since it began in March 2015. In October 2016, military units allied with the Houthi movement and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh (Houthi-Saleh forces) reportedly launched anti-ship missiles at U.S. Navy vessels on patrol off the coast of Yemen. While no U.S. warship was damaged, a similar attack earlier in October damaged a U.S. transport ship leased by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The attacks against the U.S. ships marked the first time U.S....

Next Steps for Auction of TV Broadcast Airwaves to Commercial Carriers

The closing phases of an incentive auction process to license airwaves currently used for television broadcasting began on August 16, 2016. Bidding for commercial licenses in the first stage concluded on August 30, without meeting rules and conditions established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC therefore scheduled a second stage to set new targets for clearing spectrum. The reverse auction of Stage 2 concluded on October 17, establishing $54.6 billion as the amount to be met by wireless carriers in the next forward auction, beginning October 19. Licenses covering 90...

President Obama Ends Economic Sanctions on Burma

President Obama ended two decades of U.S. economic sanctions on Burma on October 7, 2016, when he issued Executive Order (E.O.) 13742, “Termination of Emergency with Respect to the Actions and Policies of the Government of Burma.” E.O. 13742 ended the national emergency with respect to Burma that had been in effect since 1997, and revoked that order and five other Executive Orders that imposed, enforced, or waived economic sanctions on Burma. In addition, E.O. 13742 waived the economic sanctions authorized by Section 5(b) of the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic...

Iran’s State-Linked Conglomerates

Issue Overview

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran, which took effect on January 16, 2016, has raised questions about the economic and political effects of sanctions relief provided under the agreement. Although Iran has a substantial private sector composed, at least in part, of large import-export trading houses, several years of sanctions have enabled regime leaders and institutions to acquire control of significant portions of the economy. The question for the Administration and Congress is whether sanctions relief will benefit...

DEA Scheduling Actions on Kratom

On August 30, 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced its intent to temporarily place into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) the “active materials” in the kratom plant. The DEA’s notice of intent initiated an expedited temporary scheduling action and provided the 30-day notice required by 21 U.S.C. §811(h) of the CSA. However, on October 12, in response to public concern over the scheduling action and the public request for the DEA to consider public comments, the DEA withdrew its notice of intent to temporarily place kratom into Schedule I. The DEA is...

Recent Developments in U.S.-Russian Nonproliferation Cooperation

On October 3, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree suspending participation in a bilateral U.S.-Russia weapons plutonium disposal agreement (the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, or PMDA). The next day, Russia suspended participation in a 2013 cooperative agreement on nuclear- and energy-related research and terminated a third from 2010 on exploring options for converting research reactors from weapons-usable fuel.

These agreements are part of a suite of nonproliferation and nuclear security agreements the two countries concluded starting in the 1990s...

Current Vacancies on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims: Overview and Historical Context

Over the past several decades, there has been ongoing Senate interest in appointments to the United States Court of Federal Claims. This Insight provides information related to the number of current vacancies on the court, and how long these particular vacancies have existed. It also provides, for historical context, similar information for past vacancies on the court.

The Court of Federal Claims was established by Congress in 1982, assuming the original jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Claims, which had been in existence since 1855 (and which was abolished in 1982 by the same statute...

President Waives Restrictions on Relations with Burma’s Military under Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2008

On September 28, 2016, President Obama issued Presidential Determination 2016-14 waiving for the first time the military assistance restrictions that are mandated by the Child Solider Prevention Act of 2008 (CSPA; 22 U.S.C. 2370c et seq.) with respect to Burma. Other restrictions on military assistance to Burma for FY2017 remain in effect. The accompanying memorandum of justification indicated that the waiver was in the national interest of the United States to support and strengthen Burma’s democratic transition, and that the new Burmese government is “a willing partner that will work to...

Water Resources Development Act of 2016: Army Corps of Engineers Provisions in H.R. 5303 and S. 2848

Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) provisions typically relate directly to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) or more broadly to water resource infrastructure, such as dams and levees.

The House version of WRDA 2016 (H.R. 5303) continues the traditional focus on the Corps. The House passed H.R. 5303 on September 28, 2016.

The Senate version (S. 2848) is an omnibus water bill that addresses a variety of water issues and the activities of multiple departments and agencies. The Senate passed S. 2848 on September 15, 2016.

For a brief description of the two bills, including their...

Water Resources Development Act of 2016: H.R. 5303 and S. 2848

The House and Senate versions of the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA 2016) have different scopes. The House version of WRDA 2016 (H.R. 5303) continues the traditional focus of WRDAs on the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). The House passed H.R. 5303 on September 28, 2016. The Senate bill (S. 2848) is an omnibus water bill addressing a variety of water issues and activities of multiple federal agencies; the Senate passed S. 2848 on September 15, 2016. The provisions below illustrate the scope and potential effects of the two bills. Corps Authorizations and Funding Senate and...

Paris Climate Change Agreement to Enter into Force November 4

The Paris Agreement (PA), which addresses climate change through international cooperation, is set to take effect on November 4, 2016. With the ratifications by the European Union, seven EU member states, New Zealand, and India—along with earlier actions by the United States, China, and other countries—the threshold was passed for the treaty to enter into force: Entry into force occurs on the 30th day after at least 55 countries, representing at least 55% of officially reported greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, deposit their ratifications, acceptances, or approvals with the United Nations...

Should the U.S. Relinquish Its Authority Over the Internet Domain Name System?

On March 14, 2014, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the Department of Commerce announced the intention to transition its stewardship role and procedural authority over key Internet domain name functions to the global Internet multistakeholder community. NTIA’s existing authority over the domain name system (DNS) primarily derives from a contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The FY2017 Continuing Resolution, as passed by the Senate and House, did not include language to prevent NTIA from allowing its contract...

Stafford Act Assistance for Public Health Incidents

This Insight provides a brief overview of Stafford Act declarations under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (hereinafter the Stafford Act—42 U.S.C. 5721 et seq.) and the types of assistance that could be authorized in response to public health incidents in general, and infectious disease incidents such as the Zika virus outbreak in particular. This Insight also provides examples of Stafford Act declarations that have been previously issued to address such incidents.

Overview

The Stafford Act authorizes the President to issue two types of declarations that...

Statutorily Required Federal Advisory Committees that Began Operations in FY2015

Congress regularly establishes federal advisory committees—sometimes called task forces, panels, commissions, working groups, boards, councils, or conferences. Many of these committees are required to operate pursuant to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA; 5 U.S.C. Appendix), which seeks to make advisory committee operations more accessible and transparent. Federal advisory committees are one of only a few formalized mechanisms for private-sector citizens to participate in the executive branch’s policymaking process. FACA committees are prohibited from creating policy or issuing...

Wells Fargo Customer Account Scandal: Regulatory Policy Issues

Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., is a large federally chartered depository bank. Reportedly, thousands of Wells Fargo employees harmed bank customers in a variety of ways, including opening unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts in customers’ names, enrolling customers in online banking services they did not ask for, and transferring funds among existing and unauthorized accounts. These revelations present a number of policy issues in the areas of consumer protection, corporate governance, regulatory agency performance, and congressional oversight. This scandal is being examined at House and...

FERC Reviewing Its Approach to Market Power Determinations

On September 22, 2016, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or the Commission) issued a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) to explore whether it should revise its current approach to “identifying and assessing” market power in electric utility transactions. FERC defines market power as “[t]he ability of any market participant with a large market share to significantly control or affect price by withholding production from the market, limiting service availability, or reducing purchases.”

FERC’s rationale for the NOI arose from the different ways market power can be analyzed under its rules....

The Yahoo! Data Breach—Issues for Congress

On September 22, 2016, Yahoo! announced that information on at least 500 million user accounts had been stolen. It reported that compromised information included “names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, hashed passwords ... and, in some cases, encrypted or unencrypted security questions and answers.” The breach started in late 2014, but Yahoo! did not say when it was detected.

It is not clear what the impact on individuals will be. It appears that passwords were properly secured, but if a state actor with immense resources is involved, the passwords could be...

Overview of EPA Standards for “Coal Ash” Disposal

On October 19, 2015, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations applicable to the disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCR) went into effect. CCR, commonly known as “coal ash,” is generated when power plants burn coal to produce electricity. (See EPA’s Coal Ash website.) EPA promulgated the standards under its existing authorities in the Solid Waste Disposal Act (more commonly referred to by the title of its 1976 amendment, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or RCRA). Codified at 40 C.F.R. 257 Part D, the regulations establish minimum national standards that must be...

Presidential Policy Directive 41: United States Cyber Incident Coordination—What Is the Role of the Department of Defense?

On July 26, 2016, President Obama signed Presidential Policy Directive 41, United States Cyber Incident Coordination, “setting forth principles governing the Federal Government’s response to any cyber incident, whether involving government or private sector entities.” Issued following high-profile attacks such as the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) breach in 2015 and the recent breach of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC’s) email system, the directive addresses a number of cyber-related issues, including defining various types of cyber incidents as well as departmental roles...

Designation of Global ‘Too Big To Fail’ Firms

Hearings in both the House and the Senate have examined the role and processes for U.S. financial regulators and the international standard-setting body—the Financial Stability Board (FSB)—for designating large financial institutions as systemically important (or “too big to fail”). Members of Congress and various witnesses have raised concerns that the process of FSB designation for global firms, including U.S. firms, is opaque, and that it has potentially costly implications for large U.S. financial firms without affording them U.S. legal means of redress or U.S. “due process.” H.R. 1309...

County Agricultural Revenue Coverage (ARC) Payment Disparities: What Are the Issues?

In October 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made the first payments for 2014 crops under the new revenue programs provided by the 2014 farm bill (Agricultural Act of 2014, P.L. 113-79). At that time, significant discrepancies in county-level payments were discovered under the Agricultural Revenue Coverage (ARC) program. These significant discrepancies—which appear to be due, in part, to average county yield calculations—have generated considerable concern about whether the new revenue program is working as intended and whether USDA is implementing it with sufficient...

Questions of the Privileges of the House

A question of the privileges of the House is a formal declaration by a Member of the House asserting that a situation has arisen that affects “the rights of the House collectively, its safety, dignity, and the integrity of its proceedings.” When making the declaration, the Member submits a resolution providing detail on the situation and typically urging action of some sort.

The notion of such questions predates Congress, and House precedent states, “The tradition of Anglo-American parliamentary procedure recognizes the privileged status of questions related to the honor and security of a...

Saudi Military Campaign in Yemen Draws Congressional Attention to U.S. Arms Sales

Some lawmakers have introduced legislation seeking to condition or prohibit the sale or transfer of certain weapons and the provision of some U.S. foreign assistance to Saudi Arabia. These proposals have come amid reports of Yemeni civilian casualties resulting from Saudi-led coalition military operations in Yemen, which resumed in August 2016. Some lawmakers suggest that U.S. arms sales and military support to Saudi Arabia are enabling alleged Saudi violations of international humanitarian law. Human rights organizations seek further investigations into the alleged Saudi violations, and...

The Financial CHOICE Act

This Insight highlights some of the major policy proposals included in H.R. 5983, the Financial CHOICE Act (FCA). The FCA was ordered to be reported by the House Financial Services Committee on September 13, 2016 and is part of the House Republicans’ “A Better Way” policy agenda. The FCA encompasses a broad package of reforms to the financial regulatory system, including significant changes to the Dodd-Frank Act (DFA; P.L. 111-203). The FCA incorporates many bills that have previously received committee or floor consideration. For more on the FCA, see CRS Report R44631, The Financial...

Ex-Im Bank: No Quorum, No Problem?

The Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank) is operating on a limited basis despite a renewal of its general statutory charter through FY2019 (P.L. 114-94, Division E, enacted December 4, 2015). The absence of a Board of Directors quorum constrains Ex-Im Bank’s ability to approve medium- and long-term export financing above $10 million. The Board’s status is of congressional interest because nominations to the Board are subject to Senate approval, and debate over it relates to broader issues for Congress over Ex-Im Bank (see CRS In Focus IF10017, Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im...

The Closure of ITT Technical Institute

On August 25, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) imposed a variety of additional Higher Education Act (HEA) Title IV federal student aid program participation requirements on ITT Educational Services, Inc. (ITT-ESI). ITT-ESI is the publically traded parent company of the private, for-profit institutions of higher education (IHEs) ITT Technical Institutes (ITTs) and Daniel Webster College (DWC). On September 6, 2016, ITT-ESI announced the closure of all 136 ITT campuses. As a result, approximately 35,000 enrolled students, at 136 campuses, across 38 states became unable to continue...

Russia’s Parliamentary Elections

On September 18, 2016, Russians will go to the polls to elect the State Duma, the lower house of parliament. Russia’s last parliamentary elections in December 2011 triggered a wave of protests against electoral fraud and heralded the rise of a revitalized opposition against the government of President Vladimir Putin. Five years later, expectations of democratic change have subsided. The ruling United Russia (UR) party is poised to win an even larger majority than before, with most other seats going to loyal opposition parties. Parties genuinely in opposition to the government are expected...

How a National Infrastructure Bank Might Work

The Republican and Democratic presidential candidates both propose increasing federal infrastructure investment. Hillary Clinton recommends increasing federal infrastructure spending by $275 billion over five years. Donald Trump proposes to at least double that amount, but without details about how this would be spent. As part of her proposal, Hillary Clinton includes the creation of a national infrastructure bank with an initial appropriation of $25 billion. Although the proposal offers few specifics, legislation introduced in the 114th Congress helps explain how an infrastructure bank...

Cost-Benefit Analysis in Rulemaking and Financial Regulators

Many regulatory agencies are required—by statue or executive order—to perform regulatory analysis assessing the potential effects of a proposed regulation prior to implementing it. For many federal agencies, this analysis must include a cost-benefit analysis (CBA)—a systematic and sometimes quantified examination of all potential economic costs and benefits resulting from the implementation of a proposed rule. However, the required scope and level of detail of regulatory analysis can vary between different departments and agencies, particularly for financial regulators. Financial...

Prospects in Colombia: Cease-Fire, Peace Accord Vote, and Potential Disrupters

On October 2, 2016, Colombians will be given a chance in a national plebiscite to embrace or reject a peace accord negotiated over four years between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the country’s largest insurgent group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The FARC has fought the Colombian government for more than five decades and funded its leftist insurgency with proceeds from extortion, drug trafficking, and other illicit activities.

The vote is not legally required to approve the FARC-government negotiations but was the path chosen by the Santos...

Brazil in Crisis

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff of the center-left Workers Party was permanently removed from office on August 31, 2016—a little more than a year and a half into her second four-year term. Officially, Rousseff was impeached and convicted by supermajorities in both houses of the Brazilian Congress for violating the country’s fiscal responsibility law. Many analysts contend, however, that Rousseff’s fate was determined more by legislators’ political calculations than by the legal merits of the impeachment charges. Rousseff’s political base collapsed over the past year as a deep economic...

Coal Use Already Near EPA’s 2030 Projection

In February of this year, BloombergBusiness stated that although the Supreme Court had placed a hold on implementation of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), the Court’s stay “won’t save coal from a shrinking market.” Under the CPP, Bloomberg noted, EPA had projected that coal’s share of the electric power mix would shrink to 27% in 2030 (from a 39% share in 2014); but it was already down to 29% in November 2015, a month after the CPP was promulgated.

Coal’s shrunken market share has continued in the months since November: over the first six months of 2016, coal accounted for 28% of...

Paris Agreement: United States, China Move to Become Parties to Climate Change Treaty

On September 3, 2016, the United States and China consented to be bound by the international Paris Agreement (PA) to address greenhouse-gas-induced climate change.

The PA was negotiated under the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which the United States ratified in 1992 with the advice and consent of the Senate. The UNFCCC set an objective of “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”—implicitly requiring that human-related net emissions of greenhouse gases...

Burma Holds Peace Conference

In what many observers hope could be a step toward ending Burma’s six-decade long, low-grade civil war and establishing a process eventually leading to reconciliation and possibly the formation of a democratic federated state, over 1,400 representatives of ethnic political parties, ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), the government in Naypyitaw and its military (Tatmadaw), and other concerned parties attended a peace conference in Naypyitaw, Burma, on August 31–September 3, 2016. Convened by Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor for the government in Naypyitaw, the conference was called the...

The 2016 G-20 Summit

Background on the G-20

On September 4-5, leaders of the Group of Twenty (G-20) countries met in Hangzhou, China. The Group of Twenty (G-20) is a forum for advancing international economic cooperation and coordination among 20 major advanced and emerging-market economies, including the United States. G-20 countries account for about 85% of global economic output, 75% of global exports, and two-thirds of the world's population. The G-20 generally focuses on financial and economic issues and policies, although related issues are also discussed, including food security, foreign aid, the...

Leadership Succession in Uzbekistan

Background

On August 28, 2016, Uzbekistan announced its President, Islam Karimov, had been hospitalized, but officials gave few details about his condition. On September 2 after a week of conflicting reports, the government confirmed that Karimov had died and the following day a funeral was held in his hometown of Samarkand.

The 78-year-old Karimov served as Uzbekistan’s only President from the time of its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. Prior to his death, his deteriorating health caused observers to speculate about the insular country’s process for choosing a new...

Hong Kong’s 2016 Legislative Council Elections

A record 2.2 million (58%) of Hong Kong’s eligible voters voted on September 4, 2016, to select the 70 members of the 6th Legislative Council (Legco). Thirty pro-democracy candidates won seats, including six from new political parties formed following 2014 pro-democracy protests. Although pro-establishment candidates won a majority of the seats, pro-democracy candidates increased their numbers by three, winning enough seats to play a role in possible governance reforms.

The U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-383) commits the United States to treat the Hong Kong Special...

EU State Aid and Apple’s Taxes

On August 24, 2016, the Treasury Department issued a white paper critical of four recent investigations by the European Union (EU). This white paper followed previous concerns raised by the Treasury Department and by Congress, especially the Senate Finance Committee.

The EU investigations claimed that certain countries had provided illegal state aid via favorable tax rulings. The most significant in monetary terms is Ireland’s rulings for Apple. There are also investigations of Starbucks in the Netherlands and Amazon in Luxembourg. (The remaining non-U.S. firm is Fiat Chrysler, also in...

Information Warfare: Russian Activities

Pointing to several recent high-profile events, media reports suggest that Russia is engaging in activities that some may describe as Information Warfare (IW): the range of military and government operations to protect and exploit the information environment. These alleged events include “hacks” of servers of U.S. political parties and other groups; releases and possible manipulation of sensitive documents in an attempt to influence the upcoming U.S. presidential election; and the manipulation of publicly available information on Russian activities in Ukraine. The scale and frequency of...

Zika Testing Poses Challenges for Blood Centers

Introduction

On August 26, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an updated guidance recommending that all U.S. blood centers begin testing donations for Zika virus (ZIKV) using an investigational test cleared by FDA. While the recommendation is nonbinding, all blood centers are expected to comply.

Blood donations in Puerto Rico and Florida, the only areas within the United States where local mosquito-borne ZIKV transmission has been confirmed, are already being tested. Testing is also being conducted on donations in high-risk areas of Texas.

The guidance is the latest in a series...

OPM Announces Premium Increase in the Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program

On July 16, 2016, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced a premium rate increase for long-term care insurance policies purchased through the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP). The new rates were established following an open competitive bidding process. That process awarded a new seven-year contract to the prior insurer and sole bidder, John Hancock Life & Health Insurance Company, to continue providing coverage. According to OPM, the higher premiums are based on an analysis that used updated assumptions of industry trends and claims experience. The...

Display of the Confederate Flag at Federal Cemeteries in the United States

The National Park Service (NPS), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the Department of the Army all administer federal cemeteries that sometimes display the Confederate flag. There are 147 national cemeteries in the United States. Fourteen are maintained by the NPS, in the Department of the Interior. The VA, through its National Cemetery Administration (NCA), administers 131 cemeteries. The Army, in the Department of Defense (DOD), administers 2 national cemeteries. In addition, the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) operates 25 American military cemeteries in 16 foreign...

Supreme Court: Length of the Scalia Vacancy in Historical Context

This CRS Insight provides data and analysis related to the potential length of the current vacancy on the Supreme Court caused by the death of Antonin Scalia on February 13, 2016. Specifically, this Insight provides the number of days the Scalia vacancy will have existed on specified future dates if a nominee has not been confirmed. To provide historical context, it then identifies for three periods of time (1791-2010; 1900-2010; and 1945-2010), how many other Supreme Court vacancies would be of longer duration than the Scalia vacancy if it were to remain unfilled on each specified future...

Gabon’s August 27 Presidential Election

The 2016 Presidential Election

President Ali Bongo is campaigning for a second seven-year term in a vote scheduled for August 27. A serious challenge from opposition candidate Jean Ping, a respected diplomat who previously served as president of the African Union Commission, may make the election unusually competitive for a country that has known only two presidents since 1967 (Bongo and his father, Omar Bongo, who died in 2009). Several factors nevertheless favor the incumbent—notably, a single-round electoral system that does not require a majority of votes to win, which enabled Bongo to...

Taxation of U.S. Olympic Medal Winners

As U.S. athletes are finishing up competing in the 2016 Summer Olympics, Congress is considering tax relief for medal-winning Olympians. Specifically, proposed legislation (discussed below) would exclude from taxable income awards made by the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) to Olympic medalists. Currently, the USOC awards U.S. Olympic medalists a “victory” bonus of $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze (each member of a medal-winning team receives a full bonus). In addition, awards may also be made by an athlete’s respective sporting federation (e.g., USA Swimming for...

The Zika Outbreak Is Declared a Public Health Emergency in Puerto Rico

On August 12, 2016, Sylvia Matthews Burwell, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), declared a public health emergency for Puerto Rico “[a]s a consequence of the outbreak of Zika virus and its potential effect on pregnant women and children born to pregnant women with Zika.”

Background

The Zika virus (ZIKV), first recognized in Uganda in 1947, emerged in South America early in 2015. Although most cases of infection are mild, prenatal infection can cause severe birth defects, including microcephaly. ZIKV is transmitted among humans by the bite of an infected mosquito, by sexual...

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy: Considering “No First Use”

Recent press reports indicate that the Obama Administration might adopt a declaratory policy stating that the United States will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in conflict. These reports have reignited debate about the benefits and risks of this policy, known as a “no first use” pledge. U.S. officials have repeatedly stated that the United States could, under certain circumstances, use nuclear weapons against a state, even if the latter has not already done so. The absence of a “no first use” pledge dates back to the Cold War when the United States sought to deter a Soviet attack...

Revisiting U.S.-Mexico Sugar Agreements

Numerous reports in the business trade press in recent months have quoted U.S. government officials, lawmakers, and sugar industry leaders commenting on negotiations the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) is conducting with the government of Mexico to consider changes to two sugar suspension agreements the United States and Mexico entered into in December 2014. The suspension agreements, which are currently in force, establish limits on exports of Mexican sugar to the United States, including quantitative limits and minimum prices. Previously, Mexican sugar had been the only unmanaged...

Automakers Seek to Align Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Regulations

Automakers are seeking regulatory—and perhaps legislative—changes this year to revise federal fuel economy and environmental standards and reduce potentially large penalties. The technical proposals would be the first major structural change in these standards since 2012, and they come at a time when federal agencies are undertaking a regulatory review that may result in far greater changes.

For more than 40 years, the federal government has regulated passenger motor vehicles for their fuel economy. Administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Corporate...

Al Qaeda’s Syria Affiliate Declares Independence

On July 28, 2016, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al Nusra (aka the Nusra Front), announced that it was reconstituting itself as an independent group. Nusra Front leader Abu Muhammad al Jawlani stated that his group would hereafter be known as Jabhat Fatah al Sham (“Levant Conquest Front”), and would have “no affiliation to any external entity.” U.S. officials have downplayed the announcement as a rebranding effort, noting the continuing role and presence of Al Qaeda operatives within the Front.

Challenges facing the Nusra Front may have driven the timing. Reports that the United...

How Much Slack Remains in the Labor Market?

The amount of “slack” in the labor market—jobless or underemployed workers—has consequences for the appropriate stance of monetary policy, the future path of the budget deficit, and counter-cyclical spending on programs such as unemployment insurance. Economists use several indicators to assess the state of the labor market. The official unemployment rate—specifically the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) U-3 rate—is a familiar and commonly reported statistic that currently indicates there is little slack in the labor market. The unemployment rate has been 5% or lower since October 2015,...

Fatal Balloon Accident Highlights Disagreement Between Safety Agencies

On July 30, 2016, a hot-air balloon tour flight crashed about 30 miles south of Austin, TX, killing the pilot and all 15 passengers on board. It was the deadliest balloon crash in U.S. history, and exposed a disagreement among U.S. safety agencies: the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has urged tougher federal regulation of balloon flights, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has rejected the NTSB’s recommendation.

How Safe Are Balloons?

While balloon crashes are uncommon, accidents involving balloon tours can involve large numbers of passengers: a 2013 crash in Egypt...

A New Aid Package for Israel

Overview

As the United States and Israel continue to discuss the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on U.S. assistance for the period FY2019-FY2028, Members of Congress are considering legislation that could impact the contours of such an agreement. Lawmakers in both chambers are working on foreign operations and defense appropriations bills that contain proposed increases for various types of aid to Israel. The Administration has objected to some proposed increases, perhaps out of concern that congressional action during MOU discussions might affect the U.S. negotiating...

Iran Financial Sanctions Issues

Overview

In January 2016, the multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran (“Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” or JCPOA) entered its implementation phase, which included the lifting of U.S. sanctions on foreign banks’ transactions with Iranian banks. The agreement did not require the lifting of a longstanding ban on U.S. financial transactions with Iranian banks or a ban on Iran’s access to the U.S. financial system. Thus far, major international banks have been hesitant to reenter the Iranian market despite sanctions removal because of:

reported concerns that the United States might...

Human Trafficking and Forced Labor: Trends in Import Restrictions

Introduction

More than 85 years ago, Congress passed a provision against forced labor in the Tariff Act of 1930 (19 U.S.C. 1307), which prohibited from import into the United States “all goods, wares, articles, and merchandise mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in any foreign country by convict labor or/and forced labor or/and indentured labor under penal sanctions” (Section 307 of the act).

Mirroring the International Labour Organization’s (ILO’s) Forced Labour Convention of 1930 (though the United States is not party to this treaty), the Tariff Act defines forced labor...

2016 Rio Games: Anti-Doping Testing

Responsibility for the anti-doping testing program during the 2016 Summer Olympics rests with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The testing period began July 24, 2016, when the Olympic village opened, and continues through August 21, 2016, the date of the closing ceremony. The IOC-issued anti-doping rules apply to the following personnel and entities during the 2016 Games:

“[a]thletes entered in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games or who have otherwise been made subject to the authority of the IOC in connection with the Rio 2016 Olympic Games....”;

“[a]thlete support personnel and persons...

China’s Recent Stock Market Volatility: What Are the Implications?

China’s two main stock markets, the Shanghai Stock Exchange (SSE) and the Shenzhen Stock Exchange (SZSE), experienced rapid price increases from about mid-2014 to mid-2015. However, from June 12 to July 7, 2015, the Shanghai and Shenzhen Composite Indices fell by 32% and 40%, respectively. The Chinese government intervened to halt the slide via stock purchases and other measures. Stock prices later stabilized, but experienced periods of decline, especially in August 2015 and early 2016. The volatility of China’s stock exchanges and the government’s interventionist regulatory policies have...

U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Turkey

According to unofficial reports, the United States stores approximately 50 B61 nuclear bombs at Incirlik Air Force Base in southern Turkey. After the failed coup in Turkey in mid-July 2016, the government arrested several high-ranking officers from the base and cut power for nearly a week. In late July, Turkish citizens protested outside the base, calling for its closure, though Turkish officials have assured U.S. officials that the United States will retain access to Incirlik and other bases in Turkey. These events have sparked debate about the weapons’ security and plans to continue...

Orlando Shooting Revives Debate over Restricting Blood Donations by Gay Men

Within hours of the shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, hundreds of people responded to the call for blood donations to help the injured. Gay men were among those who lined up outside local donation centers. They were motivated by rumors that the regional blood bank OneBlood, which serves the Orlando area, had lifted the decades-old ban on donations from sexually active gay men.

The rumors turned out to be untrue, and most of the gay men who showed up were turned away. OneBlood released a statement on social media that the ban had not been suspended.

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Since the 1980s, the Food...

Security Cooperation and the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

Introduction

Provisions in the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) have elevated ongoing debates over U.S. security sector assistance to foreign countries—and raised questions over whether the policy architecture is suited to meet current and emerging requirements. The State Department has historically served as the lead agency for overarching policy in this area, with primary security assistance authorities outlined in Title 22 (Foreign Relations) of the U.S. Code. Over time, Congress has granted the Department of Defense (DOD) new mechanisms under Title 10 (Armed Services)...

New Bureau Consolidates Transportation Finance Programs

Many proposals to create a national infrastructure bank have failed to win approval in recent sessions of Congress. A national infrastructure bank is often conceived as an independent federal agency with financing and project expertise that would provide low-cost long-term loans to infrastructure projects on flexible terms. A reorganization at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), announced on July 20, appears to achieve some of the objectives of national infrastructure bank proponents, at least with respect to transportation projects.

The reorganization, mandated in the Fixing...

An Apparent First in U.S. Law Enforcement Use of Unmanned Ground Vehicles

On the night of July 7, 2016, Micah Johnson opened fire on law enforcement officers who were observing a protest against police-involved shootings in Dallas, TX. Johnson killed five officers and wounded seven. Johnson was later killed by an explosive device deployed by a bomb disposal robot (also known as an “unmanned ground vehicle,” or “UGV”). While the tactic is being hailed by some as an innovative way to tackle a dangerous threat and a way to save officers’ lives, the Dallas Police Department (DPD) use of a robot to kill an active shooter has raised questions about what this might...

“Greening” EPA’s Water Infrastructure Programs through the Green Project Reserve

The largest sources of federal financial assistance for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects are the State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs of the Clean Water Act (CWA; 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.) and Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA; 42 U.S.C. 300f-300j-26). Traditionally, these programs have focused on so-called “gray” infrastructure solutions to water quality problems, that is, engineered solutions that often involve concrete and steel. Increasingly, however, the SRF programs have also embraced approaches utilizing green or soft-path practices to complement and augment hard or...

The Islamist Militant Threat in Bangladesh

Overview

The July 2, 2016, attack on a bakery in Dhaka’s Gulshan diplomatic district in which 20 hostages—including an American, 9 Italians, and 7 Japanese—were killed, marks a recent escalation in Islamist militant attacks in Bangladesh. Two police and six militants were also killed in the incident. This escalation is despite crackdowns by the Awami League Government of Sheik Hasina on both Islamist militants and the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami political party. Foreigners, as well as secularists and minorities, are being targeted in these terrorist attacks as Islamist militants pressure...

U.S. Crude Oil Exports to International Destinations

On December 18, 2015, Congress passed H.R. 2029—the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016—which was enacted and became P.L. 114-113. A provision contained in P.L. 114-113 repealed a 40-year prohibition, with exceptions, on the export of crude oil produced in the United States. Removing this prohibition and its associated restrictions provides producers, shippers, and traders with options to market and sell crude oil to international markets when market conditions support such transactions. Prior to the removal of the export restrictions, exceptions resulted in approximately 500,000 barrels...

U.S. Foreign Assistance as Colombia’s Peace Talks on Cusp of Completion

On July 18, 2016, the Colombian Constitutional Court approved a plebiscite to allow Colombian voters to decide the fate of the peace accord under negotiation between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the country’s largest insurgent group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). After nearly four years of negotiations, a peace accord with FARC is close to signature. The leftist FARC has fought the Colombian government for 52 years with financing derived from extortion, drug trafficking, and other illicit activities.

By early July 2016, the FARC and government...

Police Shootings and Federal Support for Law Enforcement Safety

Law Enforcement Officer Deaths

The recent shooting deaths of police officers in Dallas, TX, and Baton Rouge, LA, have served as a reminder of the danger law enforcement officers can face while serving the public. While these attacks have heightened attention on deaths suffered by police officers in the line of duty, data indicate that the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty has generally decreased over the past three decades. However, the number of officers killed in ambush situations has remained fairly steady. Annually, on average, nine law enforcement officers...

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Energy Incentive Program

Introduction

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) as a voluntary complement to its regulatory program known as the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CEIP is intended to promote early reductions of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, before the CPP is scheduled to take effect in 2022. The goal of the CPP is to reduce CO2 emissions from existing fossil-fuel-fired electric power plants, which produced 30% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2014. Economic modeling indicates that the CPP would significantly reduce future CO2 emission levels from...

Turkey: Failed Coup and Implications for U.S. Policy

On July 15-16, 2016, elements within the Turkish military tried, but failed, to seize political power from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. The perpetrators detained the military’s top commanders, and declared (via Turkey’s government broadcaster) that they had taken power, but failed in their efforts to seize Erdogan or other key leaders. Government officials used various traditional and social media platforms and alerts from mosque loudspeakers to rally Turkey’s citizens in opposition to the plot.

Figure 1. President Erdogan on CNN Turk – July 16,...

The Department of the Interior’s Final Rule on Offshore Well Control

On April 29, 2016, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) released final regulations concerning blowout preventer systems and well control for oil and gas operations on the U.S. outer continental shelf (81 Fed. Reg. 25887). The regulations aim to reduce the risk of an offshore oil or gas blowout that could jeopardize human safety and harm the environment.

The regulations draw on findings about the causes of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Building on previous regulatory reforms implemented after the 2010 spill,...

Economic Growth Slower Than Previous 10 Expansions

Legislators and individuals continue to express discontent with the recent pace of economic growth in the United States, particularly since the end of the recession in 2009. A recent poll found that nearly 60% of U.S. adults believe that the economy is performing poorly. Although this expansion is already the fourth longest since the 1850s (34 quarters to date), the slow pace of economic growth means the overall gains have been relatively small. As shown in Figure 1, the current economic recovery is the slowest recovery seen in the post-WWII period era. Real GDP has grown at an average...

The Brexit Vote: Political Fallout in the United Kingdom

Referendum Result Shakes Up British Politics

The result of the June 23 referendum on whether the United Kingdom (UK) should leave the European Union (EU) sent convulsions through the country’s political establishment. The regional dimensions of the voting have also fueled questions about the future of the UK’s political union. For additional information about the referendum result, see CRS Insight IN10513, United Kingdom Votes to Leave the European Union, by Derek E. Mix.

Theresa May Takes Over As Prime Minister

After 51.9% of referendum voters backed leaving the EU, Prime Minister David...

Japan’s Upper House Elections: Ruling Coalition Strengthens Majority

Will Japan Amend Its Constitution?

In elections on July 10, 2016, for the Upper House of Japan’s Parliament, known as the Diet, the ruling coalition enlarged its majority from 135 to 146 seats out of 242. The conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, now holds two-thirds of the Lower House and a solid majority in the Upper House (see Figure 1) with its junior coalition partner Komeito. This fourth straight victory in parliamentary elections by Abe’s coalition reinforced his political power. Although the ruling coalition by itself fell short of the...

Renewed Fighting in South Sudan: A Return to War?

The United States, which played a key role in South Sudan’s independence and is the country’s largest donor, declared itself a steadfast partner of the world’s newest country in 2011. Two years later, in December 2013, South Sudan collapsed into civil war. An August 2015 peace agreement led to the much-delayed formation of a Transitional Government of National Unity in April 2016. That event, while a major step forward, began a dangerous new phase of reconciliation in which opposition leader Riek Machar returned to the capital, Juba, to assume the post of First Vice President alongside his...

Australia Elections 2016

Overview

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called an early double dissolution election on July 2, 2016, in an attempt to unblock legislation, obtain a direct mandate from the people and consolidate his position as prime minister. Instead, it appears Turnbull’s right-of-center Coalition will return to office with the narrowest of margins in the House and significant opposition in the Senate. Turnbull’s poor performance in the election may lead to internal and/or external challenges from critics in the year ahead. Australian voters appear to be continuing a trend away from the main political...

U.S. LNG Exports from the Lower 48

LNG Exports Are Starting Up

Large-scale liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports from the lower 48 states began in February 2016 with a shipment from the Sabine Pass Liquefaction facility in Louisiana (see Table 1). For additional information on U.S. natural gas exports see CRS Report R42074, U.S. Natural Gas Exports: New Opportunities, Uncertain Outcomes, by Michael Ratner et al. The Sabine Pass facility is currently the only operating LNG export terminal in the lower 48 states, with an initial capacity of 2.2 billion cubic feet per day (bcf/d). Other LNG export projects in the United States...

North American Leaders’ Summit

Introduction

Since 2005, the United States, Canada, and Mexico have made efforts to increase cooperation on broad economic and security issues through various endeavors, most notably by participating in trilateral summits known as the North American Leaders’ Summits (NALS). On June 29, 2016, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hosted President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada for the 10th NALS. The meeting served as an opportunity to discuss measures to boost economic competitiveness, expand trade ties, and work on a common climate-change...

Senate Action on U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominations During the Eighth Year of a Presidency

The process by which lower federal court judges are nominated by the President and approved by the Senate during the final year of a presidency has, in recent decades, been of continuing interest to Congress. The eighth year of a presidency is significant, in part, because it is the final opportunity for a President to appoint individuals as U.S. circuit and district court judges. Such judges have what effectively has come to mean life tenure, holding office “during good Behaviour.”

In light of continued Senate interest in the judicial confirmation process, this CRS Insight provides data...

P.L. 114-182: Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Amendments

On June 22, 2016, President Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (P.L. 114-182). The act primarily amends Title I of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA; 15 U.S.C. 2601-2629) but also amends other existing law with regard to the long-term management and storage of elemental mercury, the federal authority to investigate potential cancer clusters, and the eligibility of skilled nursing facilities in rural communities for telecommunications services program funding. Previously, the Executive Office of the President published a statement of...

“Right-Sizing” the National Security Council Staff?

Currently, the main vehicle through which coordination among different U.S. government agencies on national security matters takes place is the National Security Council (NSC). As part of its defense reform deliberations, Congress is considering whether the modern National Security Council and its staff—established in 1947 to help oversee U.S. global security interests—is optimized to enable the United States to meet current and emerging threats (see CRS Report R44508, Fact Sheet: FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) DOD Reform Proposals, by Kathleen J. McInnis).

What is the...

After Brexit: A Diminished or Enhanced EU?

EU in Uncharted Territory

On June 23, 2016, the United Kingdom (UK) held a public referendum on whether to remain a member of the European Union (EU). Voters favored leaving by 51.9% to 48.1%. This decision is unprecedented and will have significant political and economic repercussions for both the UK and the EU. The UK is the second-largest economy in the 28-member EU and a key diplomatic and military power. A British exit (dubbed “Brexit”) raises serious questions about the future shape and character of the European integration project. (For more information, see CRS Insight IN10513,...

Possible Economic Impact of Brexit

In a June 23, 2016 referendum, a majority of British voters supported the United Kingdom (UK) leaving the European Union (EU), stunning global financial markets that expected the vote to fail (see CRS Insight IN10513, United Kingdom Votes to Leave the European Union). In the immediate aftermath:

Some equity markets fell by as much as 7% in value (the Dow Jones industrial average fell by 600 points, or 3.5%), erasing nearly $3 trillion in equity value.

The British pound depreciated against other major currencies by its largest amount in one day; the U.S. dollar, the yen, and other...

Midnight Rules: Congressional Oversight and Options

During the final months of recent presidential administrations, federal agencies have typically issued a larger number of rules relative to comparable time periods earlier in the administration. This phenomenon is often referred to as “midnight rulemaking.” Various scholars and observers of the federal regulatory process have documented evidence of midnight rulemaking by recent outgoing administrations, and many expect a similar trend to reoccur in the final months of the Obama Administration.

Midnight rulemaking likely occurs because the outgoing presidential administration wants to...

Financing U.S. Agricultural Exports to Cuba

In December 2014, President Obama announced a new policy approach toward Cuba that in part seeks to reduce the role of long-standing U.S. sanctions on commercial relations with Cuba while also promoting greater engagement and normal relations with the island nation. For U.S. agriculture, the most significant change to emerge from the altered U.S. policy stance toward Cuba has been a revised interpretation of the definition of “payment of cash in advance” that conditions sales of agricultural commodities to Cuba under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA,...

United Kingdom Votes to Leave the European Union

Leave Campaign Wins Referendum on EU Membership

Nearly 52% of British voters in the June 23 referendum on European Union (EU) membership answered that the United Kingdom (UK) should leave the EU. The vote on a British exit from the EU (often referred to as “Brexit”) took place after four months of intense campaigning. Among a complex pattern of supporters and opponents of Brexit, the vote pitted Prime Minister David Cameron, who led the campaign to remain, against many members of his own Conservative Party. Prime Minister Cameron subsequently announced that he will step down by October...

Catfish Inspection and S.J.Res. 28

On May 25, 2016, the Senate passed S.J.Res. 28, which would disapprove the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) rule on catfish inspection. The rule transferred catfish inspection from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The joint resolution passed 55-43 and is now before the House for consideration. If the House passes the joint resolution, it will be sent to the President for his consideration. If the joint resolution is approved, the responsibility for catfish inspection would return to FDA. Failure to take up the Senate joint...

Proposed Boeing Aircraft Sale to Iran

The Pending Sale and Implications

A potential sale of Boeing passenger aircraft to Iran’s large state-owned airline, Iran Air, raises significant questions for Congress as it oversees implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement, including some sanctions relief. On June 21, 2016, Iran Air announced an intent to purchase 80 and lease 29 of The Boeing Company’s passenger aircraft, at an estimated total cost of about $25 billion. In February 2016, Iran Air agreed to buy 118 commercial aircraft from Airbus, Boeing’s main commercial competitor, at an estimated value of $27 billion....

Stafford Act Assistance and Acts of Terrorism

This insight provides a brief overview of Stafford Act declarations under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (hereinafter the Stafford Act—42 U.S.C. 5721 et seq.) and the types of assistance they could authorize in response to terrorist incidents. This report also provides examples of Stafford Act declarations that have been issued for previous terrorist attacks.

Overview

The Stafford Act authorizes the President to issue two types of declarations that could provide federal assistance to states and localities in response to a terrorist attack: a “major...

Orlando Nightclub Mass Shooting: Gun Checks and Terrorist Watchlists

On June 12, 2016, an armed assailant killed 49 people and wounded over 50 others in an Orlando, FL, nightclub. After a three-hour standoff with police, the assailant was killed by police. It is unknown at this time whether any of the victims may have been killed in the crossfire between the police and the assailant during a hostage rescue operation. The deceased assailant was armed with a 5.56 caliber Sig Sauer rifle and a 9mm Glock semiautomatic pistol.

Assailant’s Gun Check

The alleged assailant, 29-year-old Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, acquired these firearms from a federally licensed gun...

The United Kingdom and the European Union: Stay or Go?

In-or-Out Vote Set for June 23

On June 23, 2016, British voters are expected to answer the question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” The outcome of the referendum remains difficult to predict. Polling results have varied from week to week and continue to suggest a close race with a significant number of undecided voters. Some polls in mid-June have shown a late shift in favor of the Leave campaign.

Arguments For and Against

Since joining the precursor to the modern European Union (EU) in 1973, the United Kingdom (UK) has been considered one of the most...

Declining Dynamism in the U.S. Labor Market

Many observers have noted that certain measures of the U.S. labor market “dynamism” or “fluidity”—including job reallocation, worker churn, and geographic labor mobility—have been declining for the past 20 years or more. The ability of U.S. workers to flow between jobs has been a defining feature of the economy since the end of World War II, and a reduction in labor market fluidity could have negative implications for unemployment, wage growth, and productivity. Economists have proposed several possible explanations for the decline in labor market dynamism, but the effect of these...

U.S. Circuit Court Vacancies: Overview and Comparative Analysis

This Insight provides comparative historical data related to U.S. circuit court vacancies that existed at the beginning of the three most recent presidencies (Obama, George W. Bush, Clinton), as well as the number of vacancies that existed on June 1 of each President’s eighth year in office. Data is also provided for the last day of the George W. Bush and Clinton presidencies (and the percentage change in the number of vacancies from the beginning to the end of each presidency).

This Insight also provides a geographic overview of the location of circuit court vacancies that existed on June...

U.S. District Court Vacancies: Overview and Comparative Analysis

This Insight provides comparative historical data related to U.S. district court vacancies that existed at the beginning of the three most recent presidencies (Obama, George W. Bush, Clinton), as well as the number of vacancies that existed on June 1 of each President’s eighth year in office. Data is also provided for the last day of the George W. Bush and Clinton presidencies (and the percentage change in the number of vacancies from the beginning to the end of each presidency).

This Insight also provides a geographic overview of the location of district court vacancies that existed on...

Athletic Footwear for the Military: The Berry Amendment Controversy

The Berry Amendment, a 1941 federal law (10 U.S.C. §2533a), requires the Department of Defense (DOD) to purchase only wholly American-made clothing, textiles, and other essential items for the military (see CRS Report RL31236, The Berry Amendment: Requiring Defense Procurement to Come from Domestic Sources). Some in Congress seek to bring athletic footwear for new recruits under the Berry Amendment. Currently, most new recruits receive vouchers to buy running shoes, which need not be domestic in origin. Provisions in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), of which one version...

Western Drought Legislation

Several western states are experiencing severe, and in some cases exceptional, drought. Conditions in California (which has been in a drought since 2012) have been particularly severe and have garnered national attention. California’s drought has decreased from its peak levels in 2015, but the drought’s persistence and intensity have driven ongoing interest in federally managed water supplies (in particular those supplies managed by the federal Bureau of Reclamation, or Reclamation), support for state and local water projects and programs, and conservation of fish species.

Although no...

India-U.S. Relations and the Visit of Prime Minister Modi

Introduction

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is in Washington, DC, this week for a “working visit” that will include addressing Congress, the first such address by an Indian leader since 2005. House Speaker Paul Ryan invited Modi so Congress could “hear from the elected leader of the world’s most populous democracy on how our two nations can work together to promote our shared values and to increase prosperity.” For some, the event completes a “political rehabilitation” of a foreign leader who had been denied a U.S. visa over concerns...

GIPSA Rule Revived

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has said that it would finalize a livestock and poultry marketing rule that had originally been proposed by its Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) in June 2010 and commonly referred to as the “GIPSA rule.” In a speech to the National Farmers Union (NFU) on March 7, 2016, and as reported by Agri-Pulse, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack indicated that a rule would be proposed in late spring or early summer and finalized before the end of the Obama Administration. The GIPSA rule was proposed to implement provisions in...

PROMESA (H.R. 5278) and Puerto Rico

Overview

Representative Sean Duffy introduced Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA—which means promise in Spanish; H.R. 5278) on May 18, 2016, which is a revised version of H.R. 4900, which Representative Duffy had introduced on April 12, 2016. The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the bill’s provisions and Puerto Rico’s fiscal condition on May 19, 2016. The committee marked up H.R. 5278 on May 25, 2016, and agreed to amendments including those making technical corrections and extending the focus of certain studies on the Puerto Rico...

TPP Financial Services Data Flows

Financial services firms and some members of Congress have raised specific concerns regarding the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, such as provisions on data localization for financial services firms. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew recently issued a proposal to address the data localization concerns, but it remains unclear if the current proposal will resolve the matter given that it would not change the current proposed TPP text.

For the first time in a U.S. FTA, the proposed TPP (1) would guarantee the cross-border data flows so that companies can transfer information in...

Military Lending Act: Timeline, New Rules, and Issues

New rules under the Military Lending Act (MLA) that change the definition of consumer credit for covered servicemembers and dependents will apply to transactions or accounts that are established on or after October 3, 2016. These rules may have an impact on the regulatory burdens for businesses that provide credit products to the military and may also affect military readiness.

Legislative Timeline and Existing Rules

The MLA was enacted with the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007. The impetus for the law was to protect servicemembers from certain “predatory” lending...

DOD’s Rotation to the Philippines

The United States has long maintained a significant military presence in the Pacific, with permanent garrisons and regular deployments by ground, naval, and air forces and routine exercises with their local counterparts. In 2011-2012, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced its intention to “rebalance” by focusing more of its attention and activity on Asia. One goal is to influence the development of regional norms and rules, particularly as China exerts greater influence.

On March 18, 2016, the United States and the Republic of the Philippines announced the selection of five military...

A Resurgence of Unaccompanied Alien Children?

In the first seven months of FY2016, apprehensions of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) at the U.S.-Mexico border have approached levels close to what they were in FY2014 when such migration flows reached what were characterized as “crisis” proportions.

Unaccompanied alien children are statutorily defined as children who lack lawful immigration status in the United States, are under age 18, and lack a parent or legal guardian in the United States or a parent or legal guardian in the United States who is available to provide care and physical custody. They most often arrive at U.S. ports...

Taliban Leadership Succession

On May 23, President Obama confirmed that a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle strike on a remote village just over the Pakistan border had killed the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. The strike was conducted after U.S. intelligence reportedly tracked Mansour crossing back into Pakistan from Iran. U.S. officials asserted that Mansour posed an imminent threat to the approximately 9,800 U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who are training and advising the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and conducting counter-terrorism missions against Al Qaeda and the...

Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (FFRMS)

A Flood Resilience Standard for Federally Funded Projects

The Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (FFRMS) is the principal mechanism for accomplishing the flood risk management policies established by President Obama in Executive Order (E.O.) 13690. E.O. 13690 aims to improve the resilience of communities and federal assets against the impacts of flooding. The FFRMS is a flood resilience standard that is required for “federally funded projects.” The October 2015 FFRMS defines federally funded projects as “actions where Federal funds are used for new construction, substantial...

United States Lifts Remaining Restrictions on Arms Sales to Vietnam

Overview

From May 22 to 25, President Obama is visiting Vietnam, his first trip to that country as President. During his tenure, U.S.-Vietnam relations have expanded, fueled partially by shared concerns about China’s increased assertiveness in the South China Sea, where Hanoi and Beijing have competing territorial and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) claims. (See CRS In Focus IF10209, U.S.-Vietnam Relations.) While in Hanoi, the President announced the removal of remaining U.S. restrictions on sales of lethal weapons and related services to Vietnam. U.S. officials and some observers have...

Treasury Issues White Paper on Fintech and Marketplace Lending

Marketplace lenders exemplify some of the ways that shadow banks have sought to access securities markets to fund commercial loans for consumers and businesses. Although there are several marketplace lending arrangements, it is typical for these firms to use data and modeling techniques to evaluate risks and finance loans, which are then typically destined for securities markets instead of depository banks’ portfolios. In some cases, online platforms partner with depository banks to originate the initial platform notes to fund the loans even though the loans are then sold. On May 10, 2016,...

U.S. Department of the Treasury Denial of Benefit Reductions in the Central States Pension Plan

On May 6, 2016, the U.S. Department of the Treasury denied an application submitted by the Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Plan (Central States) that would have reduced benefits to about 270,000 of the nearly 400,000 participants in the plan. The total amount of benefit reductions would have been about $11.0 billion (see page 13.2.1 of Checklist 13: Equitably Distributed). The application was submitted under the authority of The Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014 (MPRA enacted as Division O in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015...

Waiting in Queue: Options for Addressing the Airport Screening Line Conundrum

It has been widely reported that airport passenger screening checkpoint lines are getting longer, leading to long wait times and missed flights, although reliable wait time data are generally lacking. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is currently facing a screener staffing shortage. Screener attrition has more than doubled over the past six years, rising to about 13% in FY2015. Shortages may also be partly attributable to overestimation of enrollment in TSA’s PreCheck program, which allows travelers who have completed security checks to use expedited screening lanes....

FDA’s Proposed Medical Device Surveillance System and the Role of Unique Device Identification (UDI)

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for regulating medical devices—a wide range of products used to diagnose, treat, monitor, or prevent a disease or condition. Problems related to medical devices can have serious consequences for patients. Defective devices, such as artificial hips and pacemakers, have caused severe patient injuries and deaths. FDA’s premarket review process cannot be designed to completely ensure the safety of all medical devices before they enter the market. Therefore, it is necessary to have a strong surveillance system that monitors device safety....

Information Warfare: DOD’s Response to the Islamic State Hacking Activities

The Islamic State (IS) has pursued a strategy of accessing U.S. government computer systems for a variety of purposes. IS pursues five primary categories of activity when targeting U.S. computer systems: defacement, distributed denial of service, data theft, disabling websites, and data breaches. The Department of Defense (DOD) is pursuing a number of activities aimed at detecting, deterring, and thwarting IS hacking activities.

In May 2015, FBI Director James Comey stated, “ISIS is waking up’ to the idea of using sophisticated malware to cyberattack critical infrastructure in the U.S.”...

U.S.-Nordic Relations

The Upcoming U.S.-Nordic Summit

On May 13, 2016, President Obama will host the five Nordic countries—Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden—for a U.S.-Nordic Leaders Summit in Washington, DC. The Nordics have long been U.S. strategic and economic partners. U.S. interest in enhancing cooperation has increased in light of Russia’s resurgence and changes in the Arctic. The formal agenda is expected to focus on several key issues, including countering terrorism and violent extremism; the migration and refugee crisis; climate change and the environment; the Arctic; nuclear and energy...

Implications of Iranian Elections

Summary:

An apparent strong showing by supporters of President Hassan Rouhani might reflect broad support for the nuclear agreement between Iran and major international powers (“Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” JCPOA) that is providing significant sanctions relief. Iran’s core national security goals are unlikely to change, and with runoffs still to come, any possible easing of social and political restrictions is difficult to predict. The results could affect the choice of the next Supreme Leader.

Election Processes

On February 26, 2016, Iran held elections for the 290-seat Majles...

Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015: Adjustments to the Budget Control Act of 2011

The Bipartisan Budget Agreement of 2015 (BBA 2015; P.L. 114-74) includes a number of provisions that alter the budget parameters established by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA; P.L. 112-25). These provisions (1) increase the discretionary spending caps for FY2016 and FY2017; (2) extend automatic direct spending reductions to FY2025; (3) establish non-binding targets for spending designated for Overseas Contingency Operations/Global War on Terrorism (OCO/GWOT) services; (4) change limits to budget authority adjustment for certain program integrity activities from FY2017 to FY2021; and...

Dominican Republic: Update on Citizenship and Humanitarian Issues

The Dominican government has long been criticized for its treatment of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent. The government is sensitive to such criticism because it touches on race and nationality issues. After sustained international criticism of a 2013 court ruling, Dominican President Danilo Medina has taken steps to address the citizenship status and rights of people of Haitian descent and undocumented individuals living in the Dominican Republic through implementation of a naturalization law and regularization plan. Medina is favored to win a second term in elections scheduled...

Climate Change Paris Agreement Opens for Signature

On April 22, 2016, 175 out of 196 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change signed the new international Paris Agreement to address greenhouse-gas-induced climate change. No international agreement has attracted as many signatures on a single day. In addition, 15 nations—all perceiving themselves as particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change—deposited their instruments of ratification as well (Barbados, Belize, Fiji, Grenada, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Nauru, Palau, Palestine, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Somalia, and...

Escalating Violence in El Salvador

During 2015, El Salvador posted the world’s highest homicide rate, 104 homicides per 100,000 people. Homicides, many gang-related, have trended further upward in 2016, with more than 2,000 killings recorded through March, including massacres, killings of police and their families, and extrajudicial killings of suspected gang members. El Salvador has the highest concentration of gang members in Central America. Many analysts assert that the government’s tough anti-gang policies are worsening the violence; others maintain that the government has few policy options available. Escalating...

Negative Interest Rates

What Are Negative Interest Rates?

Typically, borrowers need to pay a positive interest rate to entice a saver or investor to lend their funds instead of spending them. Negative rates are the opposite—savers who do not want to spend their funds are willing to pay borrowers to accept them.

In theory, nominal rates should never be negative because investors are better off holding currency, which earns a zero nominal rate, instead. In practice, holding large sums of currency incurs a convenience cost—it is bulky and can be lost or stolen. Buying a safe or renting a security deposit box are...

The World Drug Problem: UNGA Convenes for a Special Session

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has convened in New York for a special session on “The World Drug Problem.” It is the third time the UNGA will convene such a session on global drug issues. Previous special sessions on drugs were held in 1990 and 1998.

The 2016 special session builds on work by the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the primary U.N. policymaking body on drug matters, including

the 2009 “Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation Towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem” and

the 2014 “Joint...

Reauthorization of Federal Aviation Programs: Action in the 114th Congress

On April 19, the Senate passed H.R. 636 to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), other civil aviation programs, and Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF) revenues through September 30, 2017. The legislation now moves to the House of Representatives, where a six-year FAA reauthorization bill, H.R. 4441, and a related bill on aviation research, H.R. 4489, were marked up and ordered reported by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, respectively, on February 11. Proposed authorization amounts and comparisons to FY2016...

Oil Producing Countries Ministerial Meeting: Background, Results, and Market Implications

On April 17, 2016, in Doha, Qatar, at least 15 oil producing countries—representing approximately 55% of global crude oil production—gathered for a meeting with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to discuss an agreement among attendees to limit oil production to January 2016 levels in order to support prices. Countries represented at the meeting included most OPEC members as well as non-OPEC oil exporters, but not the United States. Producing country meetings/agreements have occurred in the past and are closely monitored by the media and oil market participants as...

Contested Presidential Nominating Conventions: Brief Background and Questions

Neither major party has required multiple votes to select a presidential nominee since the 1952 Democratic National Convention and the 1948 Republican National Convention. Yet, prolonged primary campaigns routinely fuel speculation that convention delegates might again be called on to choose a party’s presidential nominee through multiple ballots, rather than to ratify a clear outcome from the primaries. This CRS Insight briefly addresses selected questions about possible contested Democratic and Republican conventions that might be relevant as Members of Congress prepare for the 2016...

The Islamic State Woos Jihadists in Africa but Faces Competition

In March 2015, the Islamic State sought to publicize its expansion into sub-Saharan Africa, highlighting in its English-language magazine, Dabiq, the pledge of allegiance made that month by Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Nigeria-based Salafi-jihadist group Boko Haram (see CRS Report R43558, Nigeria’s Boko Haram: Frequently Asked Questions, by Lauren Ploch Blanchard). The edition—“Sharia Alone Will Rule Africa”—described the alliance as a “new door” though which Muslims unable to travel to the Middle East might “migrate to the land of Islam” to wage jihad. Videos from other IS affiliates...

Zika Virus: Global Health Considerations

Background

Zika is a virus that is primarily spread by Aedes mosquitoes—the same mosquitoes that transmit dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever. Zika transmission has also been documented from mother to child during pregnancy, as well as through sexual intercourse, blood transfusions, and laboratory exposure. Scientists first identified the virus in 1947 among monkeys living in the Ugandan Zika forest. Five years later, human cases were detected in Uganda and Tanzania. The first human cases outside of Africa were diagnosed in the Pacific in 2007 and in Latin America in 2015. From January...

U.S. Postal Service Rolls Back Its Prices

On April 10, 2016, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) was required to roll back prices on many of its postal products and services, including First-Class “Forever” stamps. This is the first time in nearly a century that the USPS has dropped the price of First-Class “Forever” (or equivalent domestic letter) postage.

Due to the removal of a temporary surcharge (also called an exigent postal surcharge), the prices for nearly all market-dominant products and services, which are those where the USPS is considered to have a monopoly, such as First-Class Mail or Standard Mail (i.e., advertising...

Counting Casualties in Syria and Iraq: Process and Challenges

Casualty estimates for the conflicts in Iraq and Syria are inconsistent and unreliable because of a range of methodological challenges in conducting and reporting counts. Estimates of the number of people who have died during Syria’s civil conflict since March 2011 range from 250,000 to 470,000. In Iraq, the estimated range is between 19,000 and 41,650 deaths since January 2014. This product discusses the difficulties of collecting war-related casualty data in both countries and provides an overview of some of the current estimated figures available through selected organizations. CRS is...

The Financial Stability Oversight Council Reform Act (H.R. 3340)

The House Committee on Financial Services reported the Financial Stability Oversight Council Reform Act (H.R. 3340; H.Rept. 114-473) on March 23, 2016. Sponsored by Representative Tom Emmer, this act would (1) make the budget of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) and its permanent staff (called the Office of Financial Research, or OFR) subject to the appropriations process, (2) increase the frequency of required annual reports of the OFR, and (3) require notice and comment procedures before OFR issuance of proposed rules, proposed regulations, and research reports.

The FSOC...

U.S. Crude Oil Exports to International Destinations

On December 18, 2015, Congress passed H.R. 2029—the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016—which was enacted and became P.L. 114-113. A provision contained in P.L. 114-113 repealed a 40-year prohibition on the export of crude oil produced in the United States. (See CRS Report R44403, Crude Oil Exports and Related Provisions in P.L. 114-113: In Brief.) Removing this prohibition and its associated restrictions provides producers, shippers, and traders with more options to market and sell crude oil to international markets when market conditions support such transactions. Prior to removing...

Discharging a Senate Committee from Consideration of a Nomination

Some press reports have suggested that the full Senate could vote in relation to the nomination of Merrick B. Garland to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, even if the Senate Judiciary Committee does not act on the nomination. (See, for example, the Roll Call article of March 28, 2016.) This CRS Insight addresses questions concerning the exact nature of such a vote; it also explains the procedural steps that could be necessary to bring the nomination to a direct vote on the floor. Not all procedural options are discussed in this product; additional resources and relevant CRS...

Federal Lifeline Program: Modernization and Reform

On March 31, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted an order to expand the scope of the Federal Lifeline program to provide subsidies for broadband adoption; enhance and expand mechanisms to streamline program administration; and further combat program fraud, waste, and abuse. Citing the need to close the digital divide, the division between those who use and have access to broadband versus those who do not, the FCC voted (3-2) to extend Lifeline program subsidies to cover high-speed broadband access. The Lifeline program is a needs-based program which traditionally...

Supreme Court Vacancies That Arose During One Presidency and Were Filled During a Different Presidency

This CRS Insight provides data and analysis related to Supreme Court vacancies since 1797 that arose during one presidency and were filled during a different presidency. As of this writing, Senate debate on the current vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on February 13, 2016, has focused, in part, on whether to confirm a successor to Justice Scalia prior to a new President taking office on January 20, 2017. Note that this Insight does not take a position as to when the Senate might approve a new Justice for the Court.

This Insight is not intended to provide a...