CRS Insights

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COVID-19: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Enforcement Discretion Policy

On March 26, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a temporary policy, “COVID-19 Implications for EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Program,” on how EPA will exercise its enforcement discretion if a facility owner or operator cannot comply with certain requirements of federal environmental laws because of impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The temporary policy for COVID-19 is tailored to circumstances of the pandemic that may affect staffing, physical access for monitoring and sampling, laboratory analysis, and other resources needed to fulfill routine...

COVID-19: Summary of the Direct Payments Proposed in the HEROES Act (H.R. 6800)

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act; H.R. 6800), as passed by the House on May 15, 2020, proposes new direct payments to individuals, which the bill text refers to as “additional recovery rebates to individuals.” Direct payments were included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136), which was signed into law on March 27, 2020. This Insight provides a brief overview of the additional direct payments included in the HEROES Act. (The HEROES Act would also modify the direct payments in the CARES Act. These...

How Would the HEROES Act (H.R. 6800) Modify the Direct Payments Enacted in the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136)?

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136), signed into law on March 27, 2020, included direct payments to individuals—referred to in the law as “2020 recovery rebates.” The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) refers to the payments issued in 2020 as economic impact payments (EIPs), whereas some media reports call them “stimulus payments.” The recovery rebates are tax credits administered by the IRS. For more information on these payments, see CRS Insight IN11282, COVID-19 and Direct Payments to Individuals: Summary of the 2020 Recovery Rebates/Economic...

Condition of Highway Bridges Continues to Improve

A construction-industry group recently estimated that more than one-third of all U.S. highway bridges need major repairs or replacement, construction work that could cost federal, state, and local governments about $164 billion. When compared to total bridge capital spending of about $17 billion per year, of which roughly $7 billion is federal support, some might consider this bridge investment “backlog” to be a significant budgetary challenge. Others say the situation is probably not as dire as this analysis suggests. The data used in that estimate, published every year by the Federal...

Delivery of Economic Impact Payments (EIPs)

To mitigate the financial hardship many Americans are experiencing during the coronavirus pandemic, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136). A critical element of the aid package is direct payments to certain individuals in 2020. The payments are referred to as “recovery rebates” in Section 2201 of the act, but the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) calls them “economic impact payments” (EIPs) in the notices it shares with the general public. To qualify for a full EIP, an individual’s adjusted gross income (AGI) in 2019 cannot exceed...

State and Local Fiscal Conditions and COVID-19: Lessons from the Great Recession and Current Projections

Federal assistance to state and local governments has been a central part of the fiscal policy discussion surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Economic downturns tend to depress the tax bases of federal, state, and local governments, and may also increase demands for certain spending programs. Unlike at the federal level, however, most states and localities have statutory requirements to balance their budgets every one or two years. Absent other measures, these balanced budget requirements can necessitate tax rate increases or spending cuts that could exacerbate economic distress.

Evidence...

The 2020 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS): COVID-19 Impacts

Ongoing COVID-19 mitigation measures may impact the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)—a mandate requiring U.S. transportation fuel to contain renewable fuel. Since the beginning of the pandemic, transportation fuel demand has dropped significantly, compared to January through early March 2020 and to projections made when the 2020 volume requirements were finalized. Significant changes in fuel demand and other effects of the pandemic could affect both the implementation of the RFS and the impacts of compliance with the 2020 standard, particularly given the present-day uncertainties with...

COVID-19 Alternate Care Sites (ACSs): Role and Activities of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) provides engineering services and capabilities in support of national interests. As part of its overall mission, USACE prepares for and responds to national emergencies in support of the Department of Defense and other federal agencies and efforts. In response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic emergency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had assigned USACE missions totaling $1.8 billion as of mid-May 2020, which have led to USACE

assessing over 1,000 sites for potential use as alternate care sites (ACSs, also called...

COVID-19: Defense Production Act (DPA) Developments and Issues for Congress

The White House is employing the Defense Production Act of 1950 (DPA) in response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic to facilitate the production and availability of essential goods, supplies, and services. This Insight considers recent DPA actions and associated policy considerations for Congress. It is a companion to CRS Insights IN11337, IN11280, and IN11231. See CRS Report R43767 for a more in-depth discussion of DPA history and authorities.

New DPA Actions in Response to COVID-19

Since April 15, eight DPA actions have been made public:

According to Federal...

USDA Rural Development and COVID-19: Supplemental Funding and Agency Actions

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development agency (RD) administers loan, grant, and technical assistance programs that support infrastructure, housing, and business development in rural areas. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress provided supplemental funding to certain RD programs. In addition, RD has taken a number of actions to provide relief for current program participants and assist potential applicants in applying for program funding.

CARES Act Provisions Related to USDA RD Programs

Congress included supplemental funding for, and provisions related to, RD...

Strategic Petroleum Reserve: Recent Developments

Established through enacted legislation in 1975 (P.L. 94-163), the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR, 42 U.S.C. §6231 et seq.) was created to reduce the impact of petroleum supply disruptions and to carry out obligations under the International Energy Program (IEP, a multilateral treaty—25 UST 1685—that requires signatories to maintain emergency petroleum reserves). The SPR is authorized to hold up to 1 billion barrels of petroleum products. Physical storage capacity is currently 714 million barrels of crude oil and SPR inventories were 635 million barrels as of April 17, 2020. As U.S....

Community Development Block Grants and the CARES Act

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG) can be employed by states and local units of government to support economic and community development efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136) includes $5 billion for the Community Development Fund, enabling additional HUD support for CDBG grantees. This Insight provides an overview of the conventional CDBG program, considers how CDBG funds may be used to support community and economic development...

Tax Treatment of Net Operating Losses (NOLs) in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

Increased benefits from net operating losses (NOLs) had been discussed as part of the response to the economic effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19). The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136) included a provision increasing tax benefits for NOLs. This revision temporarily suspends current rules that were last revised in the 2017 tax revision, popularly known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) (P.L. 115-97).

Temporary Revisions in the CARES Act

Under current permanent law, when a firm has a loss (a net operating loss, or NOL), taxes are not reduced...

Office of the Attending Physician, U.S. Congress: Background Information and Response to Public Health Emergencies

Establishment and History

The Office of the Attending Physician (OAP) was established in 1928, after the House agreed to a resolution on December 5, 1928, requesting the Secretary of the Navy detail a medical officer to the House (H.Res. 253, 70th Congress).

On April 7, 1930, the Senate agreed to a concurrent resolution (S.Con.Res. 14, 71st Congress) extending the services of the Attending Physician to both chambers. Although the House never considered the concurrent resolution, the OAP began serving both the House and the Senate at that time.

Since the initial appointment in 1928, the...

Domestic Public Health Response to COVID-19: Current Status

The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is affecting communities throughout the United States, with total case counts growing daily. More than 1.3 million cases, including more than 82,000 deaths, have been reported in the United States. Containment and mitigation efforts by federal, state, and local governments have been undertaken to “flatten the curve”—that is, to slow widespread transmission that could overwhelm the nation’s health care system. Currently, “social distancing” restrictions that have been in place for almost two months are being eased in some jurisdictions as...

Hazard Pay and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Issues and Options

A number of policymakers have expressed interest in providing essential workers at risk of exposure to COVID-19 with additional compensation, or hazard pay. The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act (H.R. 6800), introduced on May 12, 2020, would create a fund for “pandemic premium pay” for essential workers. This Insight highlights some of the policy considerations should a hazard pay policy be pursued, as well as federal government options for supporting hazard pay.

What is Hazard Pay?

Hazard pay is a type of premium pay for individuals performing work...

The Impact of COVID-19-Related Forbearances on the Federal Mortgage Finance System

One of the major economic impacts of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has been loss of income, which has left many Americans unable to repay their financial obligations—including their mortgage payments. In response, regulators have encouraged financial institutions to work with customers to allow them to defer payments on mortgages through a process known as forbearance. Provisions in the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136) require mortgage servicers to provide several months of forbearance to borrowers (at the borrowers’ requests, after they demonstrate a COVID-19-related financial...

COVID-19: U.S. Economic Effects

This Insight discusses the current and projected effects of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on the U.S. economy. For effects on the world economy, see CRS Report R46270, Global Economic Effects of COVID-19, coordinated by James K. Jackson.

The economic impacts of COVID-19 since March 2020 have been large and dramatic, with impact disparities between various sectors and regions. In the United States, fear of infection, social distancing, and various states’ stay-at-home orders prompted business closures and severe declines in U.S. demand for travel, accommodations,...

CDBG-DR Funding and Oversight: Puerto Rico

In March 2020, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report of findings from its audit of the Puerto Rico Department of Housing’s (PRDOH; also known as Departamento de la Vivienda, or Vivienda) capacity to administer funds under the Community Development Block Grant program for disaster recovery (CDBG-DR). The audit assessed (1) PRDOH’s compliance with HUD regulations and requirements in administering CDBG-DR funds, and (2) the existence of financial and procurement policies and procedures consistent with federal...

COVID-19 and Public Water Service Continuity

The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has increased attention to several issues regarding the provision of public water services. These include long-standing water-rate affordability concerns, the importance of clean water to public health, and the financial sustainability of some public water systems (whether publicly or privately owned). The spread of COVID-19 has raised specific concerns regarding the continuity of residential water services needed to support hand-washing and other public health measures—particularly as more customers may become unable to pay water bills...

Offshore Royalty Relief: Status During the COVID-19 Pandemic

U.S. oil and gas producers face financial challenges stemming from demand reduction, oversupply, and commodity price drops during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some Members of Congress have asked the Department of the Interior (DOI) to offer royalty relief on federal oil and gas leases—a temporary reduction or waiver of the royalties that companies pay the federal government on production from these leases. Some other Members have opposed a comprehensive royalty relief program for federal oil and gas producers. DOI has stated that affected producers may apply for royalty relief individually using...

IRS Guidance Says No Deduction is Allowed for Business Expenses Paid with Forgiven PPP Loans

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136) created Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to provide short-term, economic relief to certain small businesses and nonprofits.

PPP loans can be used to cover payroll expenses and other enumerated operating costs (e.g., rent, utilities) and can be forgiven if the borrower meets certain payroll and employment retention criteria. The loans are capped at $10 million per borrower.

The initial authorization of $349 billion for PPP loans was exhausted by April 16, 2020....

U.S. Postal Service Financial Condition and Title VI of the CARES Act

In its latest response to concerns about the financial condition of the United States Postal Service (USPS), Congress added a provision to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136, Section 6001) expanding USPS’s authority to borrow from the Treasury. This comes at a time when USPS is delivering important information and products in connection with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including economic impact payments, census mailings, mail-in election ballots, and vital medicines.

The CARES Act borrowing authority raises new questions about USPS’s fiscal...

COVID-19: The Employee Retention Tax Credit

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136) includes an employee retention payroll tax credit intended to help businesses retain employees during the Coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19, public health emergency. Employee retention remains a policy concern, as a number of economic sectors have announced layoffs resulting from the COVID-19 induced economic fallout. Unemployment insurance claims have surged following these widespread layoffs. This Insight summarizes the employee retention tax credit in the CARES Act, makes comparisons to previous employee...

New U.S. Marine Corps Force Design Initiatives

Background

On March 23, 2020, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) announced a major force design initiative planned to occur over the next 10 years. The Marine Corps aims to redesign the force for naval expeditionary warfare and to better align itself with the National Defense Strategy, in particular, its focus on strategically competing with China and Russia. The Marines intend to eliminate or reduce certain types of units and eliminate some military occupational specialties (MOS). The Marines also plan to reorganize higher echelon Marine formations and get smaller—reducing forces by 12,000...

Business Interruption Insurance and COVID-19: Federal Legislative Initiatives

Many businesses across all sectors are experiencing disruption and incurring losses from the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The pandemic has stirred a debate among insurers, policyholders, and other stakeholders about who will be responsible for the losses that companies face from widespread shutdowns. This Insight will focus on efforts at the federal level to address business interruption (BI) insurance coverage for COVID-related shutdown losses. Insurance is primarily regulated at the state level, and there are efforts in a number of states providing for coverage of BI...

Business Interruption Insurance and COVID-19: State Legislative Initiatives

One of the most significant challenges currently facing businesses is the loss of revenue as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders. Businesses across all sectors are incurring losses, and those with business interruption insurance (BI) are submitting claims to their insurers. However, both individual insurance carriers and the industry as a whole have asserted that BI claims related to COVID-19 are not covered, either because there has been no physical damage to the property or because the policy expressly excludes coverage for viruses, or both....

Low Oil Prices May Trigger Certain Tax Benefits, but Not Others

Benchmark crude oil prices—such as U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI)—have steeply declined since January 2020. Oil market oversupply, the result of COVID-19 travel restrictions and increased global supply levels in March and April, has exerted downward pressure on prices. Although the duration of low oil prices is uncertain, price levels for the remainder of 2020 may largely be a function of demand recovery, supply adjustments, and return to a balanced market. Energy Information Administration (EIA) price forecasts, as of April 2020, indicate that WTI spot prices may average just over $29...

Small Businesses and COVID-19: Relief and Assistance Resources

This CRS Insight presents selected websites and CRS products potentially relevant to small businesses that are directly affected by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and seeking economic relief and assistance.

For an analysis of the small business provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted on March 27, 2020, see CRS Report R46284, COVID-19 Relief Assistance to Small Businesses: Issues and Policy Options, by Robert Jay Dilger, Bruce R. Lindsay, and Sean Lowry. For a list of all CRS products related to COVID-19, see the CRS COVID-19...

Mortgage Servicing Rights and Selected Market Developments

After a single-family mortgage has been originated, a mortgage servicer receives a fee to perform various administrative tasks—collecting and remitting the principal and interest payments to the mortgage lender; managing the borrower’s escrow account; processing the loan title once paid in full; and administering loss mitigation (e.g., forbearance plans) or foreclosure resolution on behalf of the lender if the borrower falls behind or fails to make full payment. Just as a mortgage is an asset for a lender, the right to earn income for servicing a mortgage is an asset for the mortgage...

Army Corps of Engineers: Section 7001 Annual Report on Future Studies and Projects

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), through its civil works mission, undertakes water resource development studies and projects and other assistance activities that are specifically authorized by Congress. In Section 7001 of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014 (P.L. 113-121; 33 U.S.C. §2282d), Congress established an annual process for identifying proposals for site-specific studies and projects within USACE’s water resource mission and authorities. The process includes a call for nonfederal proposals and concludes with a report by the Assistant Secretary...

SBA EIDL and Emergency EIDL Grants: Data by State

Congress made COVID-19-related economy injury an eligible expense for the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) in the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-123). It also expanded EIDL eligibility for certain businesses and organizations, and it established an Emergency EIDL Grant program as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136).

COVID-19-related EIDL and Emergency EIDL grants are available to all 50 states, U.S. territories, and Washington DC.

This...

COVID-19-Related Loan Assistance for Agricultural Enterprises

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136) created the Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) grants to provide short-term, economic relief to certain small businesses and nonprofits. For more information on SBA-related emergency relief provisions, see CRS Report R46284, COVID-19 Relief Assistance to Small Businesses: Issues and Policy Options, by Robert Jay Dilger, Bruce R. Lindsay, and Sean Lowry.

Important note: The SBA started accepting PPP and Emergency EIDL...

Larger Businesses and COVID-19: Financial Relief and Assistance Resources

This CRS Insight presents selected resources and CRS products potentially relevant to medium and large businesses directly affected by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic seeking economic relief and assistance.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted on March 27, 2020, contains provisions to assist businesses. This Insight focuses on potential sources of assistance designated for medium and large businesses that do not qualify for Small Business Administration programs or other assistance programs for small businesses. For small business...

The Prior Practice of Proxy Voting in House Committee

In order to increase physical distancing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the House scheduled consideration of a resolution during the week of April 20, 2020, that would have temporarily authorized the use of “proxy” voting on the chamber floor. Speaker Nancy Pelosi subsequently indicated that consideration of the resolution was postponed pending an examination by a bipartisan task force of options to facilitate remote participation by Representatives in committee and floor business.

The recent focus on proxy voting has led to interest in the history of the practice in the House....

COVID-19 and the Indian Health Service

The Indian Health Service (IHS) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the lead federal agency charged with improving the health of American Indians and Alaska Natives. In FY2019, IHS provided health care to approximately 2.6 million eligible American Indians/Alaska Natives. Its total FY2020 annual appropriation was $6.2 billion. As of April 30, IHS has seen more than 3,000 positive tests for coronavirus among its service population. In particular, the Navajo Nation has experienced one of the largest outbreaks nationally.

IHS Is a Three-Tiered System with Resource...

Noncitizens and Eligibility for the 2020 Recovery Rebates

Some policymakers have expressed concern that certain individuals, including some immigrants (referred to as noncitizens, foreign nationals, or aliens in law and throughout this Insight), are ineligible for direct payments under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136). The statute refers to these payments as 2020 recovery rebates. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) refers to these payments issued in 2020 as Economic Impact Payments. For more detailed information on these payments, see CRS Insight IN11282, COVID-19 and Direct Payments to Individuals:...

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Larger Borrowers: Oversight Efforts and Options for Congress

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136) created PPP loans to provide short-term, economic relief to

businesses eligible to participate in the SBA’s 7(a) loan guarantee program, and

any business (including self-employed individuals or independent contractors), 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, 501(c)(19) veteran’s organization, or tribal business not currently eligible that has not more than 500 employees or, if applicable, the SBA’s size standard for the industry in which it operates.

PPP loans can be used to cover payroll expenses and other...

CARES Act Economic Impact Payments for Veterans Not Required to File Tax Returns

Overview

The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), offers two cash benefit programs for disabled or low-income veterans and their dependents: disability compensation and pension. The monetary benefits provided by both of these programs are not counted as income for tax purposes and hence are not subject to the federal income tax. As a result, some VA beneficiaries are not required to file federal income tax returns because their income for tax purposes is below the minimum filing threshold. These veterans and their beneficiaries generally...

SBA EIDL and Emergency EIDL Grants for COVID-19

Congress increased eligibility for certain businesses and organizations for Small Business Administration (SBA) economic injury disaster loans (EIDL) and established an Emergency EIDL Grant program under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136) to provide short-term, economic relief to certain small businesses and nonprofits affected by COVID-19. This Insight provides a brief overview of EIDL, including eligibility and loan terms. It also provides an overview of Emergency EIDL Grants, and describes how EIDL can be used in conjunction with Paycheck...

Federal Health Centers and COVID-19

Federal health centers are outpatient health facilities that are required to be located in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) and are required to provide care to all residents of their service area regardless of their ability to pay. The health center program is administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), within the Department of Health and Human Services, and is authorized in Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act. The program helps to support more than 1,400 community-based health centers operating over 12,000 delivery sites across the country....

U.S. Funding to the World Health Organization (WHO)

On April 14, 2020, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would suspend funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), pending a 60- to 90-day review, because of WHO’s “role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.” The United States, the largest government contributor to WHO, is currently assessed 22% of the organization’s core budget (an estimated $122.6 million for FY2020). The United States also provides voluntary funding to WHO, with amounts varying per year depending on U.S. priorities and global health needs. U.S. voluntary...

Temporary Deferment of Import Duty Payments

On April 18, 2020, President Donald J. Trump issued Executive Order 13916 to provide the Secretary of the Treasury temporary emergency authority under Section 318(a) of the Tariff Act of 1930 (19 U.S.C. 1318(a), as amended) to extend deadlines for certain estimated payments of taxes, duties, and fees “for importers suffering significant financial hardship because of COVID-19.” Section 318(a) allows the President to authorize the Secretary of the Treasury to extend payment deadlines during a period of national emergency proclaimed pursuant to the National Emergencies Act.

Following the...

COVID-19 Disrupts U.S. Meat Supply; Producer Prices Tumble

U.S. livestock and poultry producers entered 2020 with an optimistic outlook for prices and income. Then in mid-March the food service sector, which accounts for a substantial share of meat consumption, was largely shut down as most states closed all but essential businesses. A temporary surge in retail meat purchases offset some of the reduction in food service demand. However, in early April, the situation worsened for producers as COVID-19 outbreaks began spreading in meatpacking plants around the United States, disrupting meat processing and leading to some shortages of meat products...

COVID-19 and Direct Payments to Individuals: Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income Beneficiaries

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136) provides emergency relief measures in response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Section 2201 of the CARES Act provides recovery rebates for most individuals, structured as automatically advanced tax credits disbursed by the Treasury Department. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) refers to the payments made in 2020 as Economic Impact Payments (EIPs). (These payments are also known as “stimulus checks” or “stimulus payments.”) This Insight addresses EIPs from the perspective of Social Security...

President Trump Criticizes VOA Coverage of China’s COVID-19 Response

The President’s Criticism of VOA’s Coverage of China

On April 10, 2020, the White House included in its online “1600 Daily” summary of key news and events a statement entitled “Voice of America Spends Your Money to Speak for Authoritarian Regimes.” The statement referred to a Voice of America (VOA) story and two posts that, it asserted, “amplified Beijing’s propaganda” about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The statement criticized VOA for running an Associated Press article on its website on April 7, 2020, which referred to Wuhan’s lockdown as a “model” for other countries battling...

The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee: Organization and Duties

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136) created a new federal entity, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), to “conduct and support oversight” of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and promote transparency.

This Insight provides an introduction to the organization and duties of the PRAC.

Organization

Section 15010(b) of the CARES Act establishes the PRAC within the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), the oversight and coordination body for the inspector general community. The...

Social Security Retirement Earnings Test (RET): Earnings Exemption for COVID-19-Related Work Response

In response to the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, some state and local officials (e.g., New York State) have called on retired health care workers to return to work and help treat the influx of patients. In addition to health care professionals, other retired workers—including certain public safety officers, emergency management personnel, scientists, researchers, and individuals—who had claimed Social Security benefits, may also go back to work to meet the essential needs of the American public during the COVID-19 outbreak.

If those retired workers are receiving Social Security...

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Lending Set Asides for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs)

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136) created the Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). On April 16, 2020, the SBA reported that it had exhausted all funding provided by the CARES Act for the PPP.

On April 24, 2020, President Trump signed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (P.L. 116-139), which contains lending set asides for smaller lenders. These set asides appear to be motivated by media coverage claiming that some big banks benefited from issuing large volumes of PPP loans and...

Congressional Oversight Provisions in the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act

President Donald Trump signed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (P.L. 116-139) on April 24, 2020. The act provides supplemental appropriations for the Paycheck Protection Program, the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to support health care providers and expand testing for COVID-19, and Small Business Administration disaster loans and grants.

This legislation is the fourth relief act addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. As was the case for the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 116-123), the Families First...

Forest Service Announces Timber Sale Contract Relief

On April 15, 2020, the Forest Service (FS) announced options for timber purchasers to extend the terms of their contract to harvest timber from the National Forest System (NFS). (Read the announcement here.) The FS, within the Department of Agriculture (USDA), sells timber to willing buyers in the private sector (timber purchasers) pursuant to specified contract terms. Although timber sales generally must be completed in a set amount of time, the FS may extend that time if it finds a “substantial overriding public interest” (referred to as a SOPI finding) in doing so. The SOPI finding...

Overview of Recent Responses to COVID-19 by the Judicial Conference of the United States, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, and Select Courts Within the Federal Judiciary

This CRS Insight provides information related to recent responses to Coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19, by the Judicial Conference of the United States, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) and select courts within the federal judiciary. It is not intended to provide a comprehensive overview of the policies and practices adopted by each federal court or judicial entity. Additionally, given the rapidly changing situation surrounding COVID-19, the information provided in this Insight may be superseded by new information from that which is described in the text below. If...

Coronavirus-Related Suspension of Immigrant Entry

On April 22, President Trump issued a proclamation suspending entry into the United States of certain aliens (foreign nationals) who are seeking lawful permanent resident (LPR) status (i.e., immigrants). The President justified the suspension as needed to protect American workers from foreign labor force competition during a time of “high domestic unemployment and reduced demand for labor” caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The President cited two immigration-related legal authorities. Under Section 212(f) (8 U.S.C. §1182(f)) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the President may...

Apportionment and Redistricting Following the 2020 Census

The census, apportionment, and congressional redistricting are interrelated processes that occur every decade. The U.S. Constitution provides that a decennial census determines the distribution of U.S. House seats across states, though the federal government today also uses census data for other purposes, such as distributing funding to states and localities. The process of dividing House seats to states is known as apportionment (or reapportionment). Each state must receive at least one House seat, and additional seats are distributed proportionally based on state population size. States...

COVID-19: U.S. Public Health Data and Reporting

The daily updated counts of cases, deaths, and recoveries during the COVID-19 pandemic have served as important indicators throughout the crisis—informing policy decisions, research, and public awareness. Ongoing data collection, or surveillance, is a key component of public health practice. As the nation’s lead public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has sought to conduct surveillance within the U.S. system of federalism where many public health authorities are based in state law. Some observers have called for improved public health surveillance during...

The Child Support Federal Tax Offset of CARES Act Economic Impact Payments

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136, enacted March 27, 2020) includes direct payments to individuals in 2020—referred to by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as “economic impact payments” ($1,200 per adult/$2,400 per couple filing a joint return; $500 for dependent children). These payments are structured as tax credits automatically advanced to households that meet certain criteria. Receiving a recovery rebate in 2020 will not affect a taxpayer’s 2020 income tax liability or tax refund, and taxpayers will generally not need to repay the rebate....

COVID-19: Restrictions on Travelers at U.S. Land Borders

New actions by the federal government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic restrict the entry of certain foreign nationals into the United States. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), have recently issued orders regarding travelers arriving at land ports of entry (POEs) at both the northern and southern borders of the United States.

DHS: Non-essential Travel Restrictions

DHS has issued two orders to temporarily restrict...

Older Children, Adult Dependents, and Eligibility for the 2020 Recovery Rebates

Some policymakers have expressed concern that certain individuals including older children and adult dependents are not eligible for direct payments enacted as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136). The statute refers to these payments as 2020 recovery rebates. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) refers to these payments issued in 2020 as economic impact payments. Receiving a recovery rebate in 2020 will not affect a taxpayer’s 2020 income tax liability or tax refund, and taxpayers will generally not need to repay the rebate.

There are...

COVID-19: Financial Relief and Assistance Resources for Consumers

This CRS Insight presents links to websites of selected federal agencies and other organizations potentially relevant to consumers affected by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. These links provide information on mortgage and other consumer payment relief, credit score protection, and consumer-targeted frauds and scams.

For analysis of consumer-related financial concerns about COVID-19, see CRS Insight IN11244, COVID-19: The Financial Industry and Consumers Struggling to Pay Bills, by Cheryl R. Cooper. For a list of all CRS products related to COVID-19, see the CRS COVID-19...

Mail Voting and COVID-19: Developments and Potential Challenges

Most voters reported voting in person in 2018, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated in-person voting for certain subsequent elections in 2020. Health risks associated with close contact have prompted concerns about some of the standard interactions involved in preparing for and conducting in-person voting.

States have taken various steps to address such concerns for some of their 2020 elections, including postponing election dates, offering curbside voting, and relocating polling places. One common response has been to expand mail voting, in which voters receive ballots...

Interaction of International Tax Provisions with Business Provisions in the CARES Act

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136) included two general tax benefits for business: net operating losses (NOLs) and interest deductions, which reduce taxable income and tax liability. These provisions may interact with existing international tax provisions enacted in the 2017 tax revision, popularly known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, or TCJA (P.L. 115-97). The TCJA also decreased tax rates, including reducing the corporate rate from 35% to 21%.

International Provisions in the TCJA

In transitioning from the prior international tax regime that...

COVID-19 and State and Local Fiscal Conditions: Select Resources on Current Status, Impacts, and Federal Relief

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused a sudden decline in economic output and surge in unemployment, and it has significantly altered the fiscal outlook for state and local governments. State and local governments use taxes and receipts, debt issuances, and intergovernmental transfers to support spending programs. And, unlike the federal government, states and local governments are generally required to balance their operating budgets every one or two years. Even before the pandemic, a 2019 Government Accountability Office report on state and local governments’ fiscal outlook suggested...

Crude Oil Futures Prices Turn Negative

What Happened?

On April 20, 2020, the futures contract price for the immediate month (May) of West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the U.S. benchmark crude, went negative (see Figure 1). The May futures contract price fell $55.90 during the day, to close at negative $37.62 per barrel. The futures price is a contract, usually monthly, for delivery of a certain amount of crude oil, on a specified date in the future, and at a particular location (Cushing, OK for WTI). WTI crude oil futures contracts are traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX). According to data from the U.S. Energy...

The CARES Act and Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs): Options for Certain Individuals

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136) includes a provision that suspends Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from certain retirement accounts for 2020. Some individuals may have already taken this distribution prior to the enactment of the CARES Act; this Insight discusses an option that might be available to them.

Required Minimum Distributions

RMDs are annual withdrawals that individuals with certain retirement accounts may be required to make under specified conditions, such as after (1) reaching a certain age or (2) inheriting a retirement...

CARES Act Assistance for Employers and Employees—The Paycheck Protection Program, Employee Retention Tax Credit, and Unemployment Insurance Benefits: Assessment of Alternatives (Part 2)

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136) includes numerous provisions to assist employers and employees during the COVID-19 economic downturn. This Insight compares (1) the Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP); (2) the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC); and (3) Unemployment Insurance (UI). Firms that receive a PPP loan cannot also claim the ERTC. Additionally, when employees are retained due to a firm’s receiving a PPP loan or claiming an ERTC, employees are generally ineligible for UI during the period of...

Status of Latin America’s Anti-corruption Fight amid Health and Political Challenges

Background

After sweeping across the region, anti-corruption activism in Latin America appears to have stalled. Populist leaders in Brazil and Mexico campaigned on fighting public corruption during their 2018 elections. However, after more than a year in office, both presidents have demonstrated little progress on significant corruption prosecutions or substantial governmental reform. Elsewhere, in 2019 and early 2020, governments in Central America shut down notable anti-corruption institutions that were approved by wide majorities of their citizens and long supported by U.S. policy and...

CARES Act Assistance for Employers and Employees—The Paycheck Protection Program, Employee Retention Tax Credit, and Unemployment Insurance Benefits: Overview (Part 1)

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136) includes numerous provisions to assist employers and employees during the COVID-19 economic downturn. This Insight compares (1) SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program; (2) the employee retention tax credit; and (3) Unemployment Insurance. A companion Insight, CRS Insight IN11329, CARES Act Assistance for Employers and Employees—The Paycheck Protection Program, Employee Retention Tax Credit, and Unemployment Insurance Benefits: Assessment of Alternatives (Part 2), coordinated by Molly F. Sherlock, highlights factors...

Bank and Credit Union Regulators’ Response to COVID-19

Once it became clear that the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak would have serious financial ramifications, the federal agencies that regulate banks and credit unions—the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) (collectively referred to as the bank regulators), and the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)—responded using existing authorities in two broad ways:

taking measures to encourage banks to work with customers affected by COVID-19; and

making...

Treatment of COVID-19: Hydroxychloroquine and Chloroquine

To date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any therapeutics—drugs or biologics—for the treatment of COVID-19. However, FDA has authorized the emergency use of two drugs: hydroxychloroquine sulfate (“hydroxychloroquine”) and chloroquine phosphate (“chloroquine”). The agency has determined that based on the totality of scientific evidence, “it is reasonable to believe that [chloroquine] and [hydroxychloroquine] may be effective in treating COVID-19,” and that when used in accord with the conditions of the emergency use authorization (EUA), the known and potential...

Federal Jury Trials and COVID-19

This Insight provides information and analysis related to federal jury trials and how such trials have been impacted by Coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19. Given the rapidly changing situation surrounding COVID-19, the information provided in this Insight may be superseded by new information that differs from what is described in the text below. If there are any questions regarding whether such changes have occurred, congressional staff may contact the author of this Insight.

Background

The Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968 specifies the qualifications a person must meet in order...

COVID-19: Effect on Organ Donation and Transplantation

The U.S. domestic response to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) poses both short- and long-term concerns for the U.S. organ transplant system. Organs are a limited resource, and their allocation is strictly regulated to try to ensure that no donated organs go unused. A number of transplant centers have suspended their transplant programs due to COVID-19. In addition, individuals are inactivating from organ waitlists in large numbers due to COVID-19 precautions. Disruptions in the system may create long-term effects for both the allocation of organs and the viability of organizations...

Bank Exposure to COVID-19 Risks: Business Loans

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has caused financial hardship across the country. If COVID-19 causes borrowers to miss loan payments, it could have negative consequences for banks. This Insight examines the exposure banks have to business loan repayments, such as commercial and industrial (C&I) loans and commercial real estate (CRE) loans. For exposure to household debt, such as mortgages and consumer loans, see CRS Insight IN11336, Bank Exposure to COVID-19 Risks: Mortgages and Consumer Loans, by David W. Perkins and Raj Gnanarajah.

The main business of a bank is to make loans and buy...

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

Insurance transfers 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, 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 transfers are, on the whole, a net cost for primary insurers, just as purchasing insurance is a net cost for homeowners....

COVID-19 and Direct Payments to Individuals: Summary of the 2020 Recovery Rebates/Economic Impact Payments in the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136)

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136), which was signed into law by President Trump on March 27, 2020, includes direct payments to individuals—referred to in the law as “2020 recovery rebates.” The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) refers to the payments issued in 2020 as economic impact payments, whereas some media reports call them “stimulus payments.” This Insight provides a brief overview of these direct payments.

The 2020 recovery rebates equal $1,200 per eligible individual ($2,400 for married taxpayers filing a joint tax return) and $500 per...

FCC Draft Rule Seeks to Limit Space Debris

On April 2, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published notice of a proposed rule intended to reduce the risk that active satellites will be damaged by space debris. The proposed rule, which is scheduled for an FCC vote on April 23, has been sharply criticized by some aerospace and telecommunications groups, and leaders of a House committee have asked that it be delayed.

The FCC licenses U.S. commercial communications satellites and the radio frequencies needed to control them. In 2004, it issued an order directing satellite operators applying for FCC licenses to submit plans...

The Federal Judiciary and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”)

On March 27, 2020, the President signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act or “the Act”) to address the nationwide impact of Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The portions of the CARES Act directed at the federal courts seek to support the federal judiciary in two key ways. First, the Act expands courts’ ability to conduct criminal proceedings by video or audio conference. Second, the Act provides funding for the federal judiciary to respond to the pandemic.

Video and Audio Conferencing

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 53 (“Rule 53”) constrains federal...

Low Oil Prices: Prospects for Global Oil Market Balance

Reduced travel, slowing economic activity, and petroleum-product demand suppression related to the COVID-19 outbreak, combined with announced plans to increase crude oil supplies, created expectations of an imbalanced and significantly oversupplied near-term petroleum market. Oversupply expectations have contributed to oil prices declining nearly 60% since January. Some regional oil prices have been less than $10 per barrel. While low oil prices are generally positive for consumers, current price levels are causing financial stress for the U.S. oil sector and several policy options could...

Federal Reserve: Emergency Lending in Response to COVID-19

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has created significant economic and financial disruption. In response, the Federal Reserve (Fed) has taken a number of actions to promote economic and financial stability. This Insight covers actions taken by the Fed in its “lender of last resort” role—actions intended to provide liquidity directly to firms to ensure they have continued access to needed funding. The Fed finances this assistance by expanding its balance sheet. For information on the Fed’s monetary policy actions, see CRS Insight IN11330, Federal Reserve: Monetary Policy Actions in Response to...

COVID-19 and Short-Run Federal Deficits

The COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing economic shock may have major effects on future federal budget deficits (the amounts by which annual outlays exceed annual revenues). The latest federal budget baselines from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) use economic forecasts produced before the COVID-19 outbreak; baselines with updated forecasts would typically not be expected for several months, though agencies could decide to provide updates sooner. This Insight briefly discusses the effects that recent economic and legislative developments may have on...

COVID-19: Selected Capital Markets Segments Supported by Federal Government Liquidity Interventions

The spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) induced heavy capital markets selloffs in March 2020. In response, the Federal Reserve (Fed)—sometimes with support from the Treasury Department—has established several emergency lending facilities to provide liquidity to key capital markets segments. As of the publication of this Insight, some markets that have announced Fed liquidity support appear to have begun to stabilize. This Insight discusses the changing capital markets conditions (Figure 1) using as examples, corporate bonds, money market mutual funds (MMFs), and municipal bonds....

SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loans and Self-Employed Individuals

To provide short-term, economic relief to certain small businesses and nonprofits, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136) created the Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

On April 14, 2020, SBA issued an Interim Final Rule (IFR) detailing how the PPP will be applied in the case of self-employed individuals (e.g., sole proprietors and partnerships, with and without employees, and independent contractors). The IFR supplements SBA’s previously issued PPP rules and guidance that have been coordinated with the...

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Actions to Mitigate the Impact of COVID-19

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has broad regulatory authority over significant parts of the securities industry, including stock exchanges, mutual funds, investment advisers, bonds, publicly traded companies, and brokerage firms. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected various areas within the SEC’s regulatory ambit. This Insight highlights selected tools that the agency has used to help mitigate those impacts.

Disclosure Relief

A foundational goal of federal securities laws is protecting investors, an objective significantly addressed through required periodic...

The Defense Production Act (DPA) and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Recent Developments and Policy Considerations

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Administration invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950 (DPA) on multiple occasions to facilitate the manufacture and distribution of medical equipment and supplies. The full extent of DPA implementation is unclear—to date, there have been six public announcements describing official DPA implementation actions.

This Insight describes recent DPA actions and reported implementation with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, and discusses policy considerations for Congress. It is intended as a companion to CRS Insights IN11280 and IN11231. See CRS Report...

The National Cemetery Administration and Department of Defense Response to COVID-19 Regarding Funerals and Military Honors

Overview

The National Cemetery Administration (NCA), part of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), is responsible for providing interment benefits to eligible veterans and dependents and for administering America’s national veterans’ cemeteries. Veteran benefits for interment in a national cemetery include the gravesite and grave liner, opening and closing of the grave, government headstone or marker, U.S. burial flag, Presidential Memorial Certificate, and the perpetual care of the gravesite. These benefits are provided at no cost to the family.

NCA operates 142 national cemeteries...

COVID-19’s Effect on Interior Immigration Enforcement and Detention

In response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, immigration authorities have altered interior immigration enforcement activities including arrests, detention, and immigration court proceedings. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) claims these efforts “have facilitated a speedy, whole-of-government response in confronting COVID-19, keeping Americans safe, and helping detect and slow the spread of the virus.” This Insight considers how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted interior immigration enforcement.

Background

DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and...

Mortgage Provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

The COVID-19 pandemic has had wide-ranging impacts. With many households experiencing income disruptions, some may have difficulty making their mortgage or rent payments on their homes. An inability of tenants to pay rent can, in turn, impact the ability of landlords to remain current on any mortgage on the rental property.

On March 27, 2020, the President signed the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136) into law. Among many other provisions, it includes some intended to provide temporary relief for certain affected mortgage borrowers:

Section 4022 provides for forbearance and a foreclosure moratorium...

Bank Exposure to COVID-19 Risks: Mortgages and Consumer Loans

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has caused financial hardship across the country. If COVID-19 causes borrowers to miss payments, it could have negative consequences for banks. This Insight examines the exposure banks have to household repayments, such as mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, and other consumer debt.

The main business of a bank is to make loans and buy securities using funding it raises by taking deposits. A bank earns money largely through borrowers making payment on those loans and securities issuers making payment on securities, along with charging fees for certain...

Limits on Business Interest Deductions Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

Thin capitalization rules, broadly, limit the amount of debt that can generate deductible interest for the purpose of calculating taxable income. Limits on the tax deduction for business interest restrictions have been relaxed by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (H.R. 748, as amended) providing economic stimulus and relief for taxpayers due to the expected slowdown of the economy because of the coronavirus pandemic. These restrictions, also referred to by their Internal Revenue Code Section 163(j), were expanded by the 2017 tax revision, P.L. 115-97.

Changes...

COVID-19: Commercial Paper Market Strains and Federal Government Support

What Is Commercial Paper and Why Is It Important?

As COVID-19 spread rapidly in the United States, fears of its economic effects led to strains in the commercial paper (CP) market, one of the main funding sources for many firms and for providers of credit to individuals. Commercial paper is short-term debt issued primarily by corporations and generally is unsecured. The CP market is an important source of short-term credit for a range of financial and nonfinancial businesses, who may rely on it as an alternative to bank loans—for example, in making payroll or for other short-term funding...

Federal Reserve: Monetary Policy Actions in Response to COVID-19

The Federal Reserve (Fed) has taken a number of steps to promote economic and financial stability in response to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). This Insight covers actions related to monetary policy—actions intended to lower interest rates or increase overall liquidity. Due to the severity of economic disruption, actions that increase overall liquidity have not been sufficient to maintain financial stability, and the Fed has also directly lent to firms and purchased private securities. Direct Fed lending and other financial assistance in response to COVID-19 is covered in CRS Insight...

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Funding in the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136)

Enacted March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136) provides supplemental appropriations for the Department of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, which includes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Title VII in Division B provides a total of $7.23 million within four of EPA’s 10 appropriations accounts to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally.” The appropriation supplements EPA’s total FY2020 enacted appropriations of $9.36 billion included in the Further Consolidated...

Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery: Responsibilities, Authority, and Appointment

The Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was enacted on March 27, 2020 (P.L. 116-136). The CARES Act provides over $2 trillion in relief to individuals; businesses; state, local, and tribal government; federal agencies; and industry sectors impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to these relief programs, Congress included a variety of provisions to facilitate transparency and oversight in the implementation of the CARES Act. Among these actions was the creation of a Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR). The SIGPR is similar in purpose and...

COVID-19 and U.S. Iran Policy

Overview

The spread in Iran of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2) has raised questions about the possible effects of U.S. policy on the capacity of Iran to cope with the outbreak. Since May 2018, when the Trump Administration withdrew the United States from the 2015 multilateral Iran nuclear agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA), the Administration has reimposed all U.S. sanctions that were in place prior to that agreement and added further sanctions. The U.S. sanctions target virtually every economic sector in Iran, but at least technically exempt...

Domestic Violence in the Context of COVID-19

Domestic violence (DV), also referred to as intimate partner violence, affects approximately one-third of women and men over their lifetimes in the United States. Empirical research and anecdotal information from organizations that serve DV victims indicate that disasters and emergencies can heighten the frequency and severity of abuse. This Insight provides background about DV in the context of COVID-19 and the current federal response to supporting victims, primarily through the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA), Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and Victims of Crime...

Pandemic Weakening Milk Prices; Industry Calls for Policy Action

Milk price prospects for U.S. dairy producers in 2020 have weakened as the U.S. economy deteriorates under the expanding Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The year began with a positive outlook for the dairy industry that included higher milk prices and increased income for dairy producers in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The dairy industry has gone through several years of relatively low milk prices, leading some dairy farms to exit the industry and two large dairy processors to file for bankruptcy. In 2019, according to USDA, the number of licensed...

U.S. Travel and Tourism and COVID-19

With the spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, many flights have been canceled, widespread travel bans have been put in place, and more quarantine and stay-at-home orders are in effect. This has sharply reduced domestic and international travel, prompting businesses across the U.S. travel sectors to ask the U.S. government for financial assistance. For Congress, this raises questions about the likely economic effects of COVID-19 on travel and tourism and the level of support warranted for some industry segments that may quickly recover once the pandemic subsides and...

Funding U.S.-Mexico Border Barrier Construction: Current Issues

The construction of barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border to control unauthorized crossings has been a matter of significant debate since President Donald Trump made construction of a border wall a key element of his campaign. This Insight provides a brief overview of the funding history for these barriers and how the current administration is redirecting federal funds to support construction.

Border Barriers Under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama

In the decade prior to President Trump’s election, Congress had appropriated almost $2.5 billion to U.S. Customs and Border Protection...

COVID-19: The Drug Enforcement Administration’s Regulatory Role

The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has caused strain on many health care and medical facilities around the country, and some doctors and pharmacists have altered conventional practice to accommodate the needs of patients during this public health emergency. Changed practices include maintaining increased supplies of Schedule II controlled substances needed for intubation at hospitals and increasing the use of telemedicine as an alternative to in-person patient visits with a provider. Such changes require the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to make exceptions to...

CARES Act Eviction Moratorium

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted business operations nationwide, leading to dramatic job losses that threaten the ability of many to meet their financial obligations, including housing rental payments. To aid individuals and businesses harmed by the pandemic, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136).

Section 4024 of the CARES Act provides a temporary moratorium on eviction filings as well as other protections for tenants in certain rental properties with federal assistance or federally related financing. These protections are designed...

COVID-19: Support for Mortgage Lenders and Servicers

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected the economy in numerous ways. Many states have issued some variation of a lockdown, restricting when citizens can leave their home and limiting business operations to critical services, such as groceries or pharmacies. Many businesses have closed operations, while others have reduced their workforce considerably. As a result, jobless claims have increased since the outbreak, leaving many consumers struggling to meet their financial obligations. One of the most significant financial obligations consumers are struggling to meet is their...

The CARES Act (P.L. 116-136): Provisions Designed to Help Banks and Credit Unions

Individuals and businesses have significantly reduced economic activity in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, potentially inflicting unanticipated losses on banks and credit unions and possibly putting them in financial distress. Because these institutions are vital to the functioning of the economy, the government has created “safety nets” to prevent them from failing and to protect depositors. To reduce the likelihood that these safety nets need to be used, the depository regulators have implemented “safety and soundness” regulations, which include rules related to banks’...

Funding for HUD in the CARES Act

Division B of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136) provided $12.4 billion in additional FY2020 funding for several Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs and activities. The funds are generally for one of three broad purposes: to provide additional resources to meet emerging needs, to support existing rental assistance programs, or to provide additional administrative capacity and oversight. Three-quarters of the funding can be considered new resources to meet emerging needs, with most of the remaining funding supporting...

Business Deductions for Entertainment and Meals

Congress has passed several laws in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including, most recently, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136), which—among its many purposes—provides tax relief to individuals and businesses. Several of the CARES Act’s business tax relief provisions were accomplished by temporarily rolling back restrictions on net operating losses and interest deductions that were enacted as part of P.L. 115-97 (sometimes referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act or TCJA). As Congress continues to assess the need for further responses, it may...

Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) Increase Available for Title IV-E Foster Care and Permanency Payments

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (P.L. 116-127) authorizes increased federal funding to states through a 6.2 percentage point increase in the federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP), also known as the Medicaid matching rate. This expanded federal support is available to states that meet specific Medicaid program requirements and is made effective retroactive to January 1, 2020, the first day of the calendar year quarter in which the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency. The increase is to remain in place until the last day of the...

Are Start-ups Eligible for the SBA’s New Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loans?

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136), among other provisions, created the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Under the PPP, a lender may provide “covered loans” to assist small businesses (defined as either businesses that have 500 or fewer employees or that meet the general size standards under the Small Business Act), small 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, and small 501(c)(19) veterans organizations that have been adversely affected by COVID-19. These covered loans—also known as PPP loans—have

a 100% Small Business Administration (SBA) loan...

GSA’s Federal Supply Schedule: Programs for State and Local Governments

Under certain circumstances, state and local governments may use the Federal Supply Schedule (FSS), established and maintained by the General Services Administration (GSA), to purchase goods or services. One such circumstance is the declaration of a public health emergency by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, which occurred on January 31, 2020, regarding COVID-19. The four supply-schedule-related purchasing programs available to state and local governments are the Cooperative Purchasing Program, the Disaster Purchasing Program, the Public Health Emergencies Program, and the 1122...

COVID-19 and Stock Market Stress

Induced by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the longest U.S. stock market bull run of 11 years ended in mid-March, the quickest drawdown on record (Figure 1). The market subsequently rebounded, responding to the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package (P.L. 116-136). The swing of stock prices has created unprecedented volatility, a risk metric that measures the degree of price dispersion. This Insight explains the function of the U.S. stock market, the different ways to view stock pricing, and how certain pandemic-induced conditions could affect policymaking. The Securities...

COVID-19: The Basics of Domestic Defense Response

As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, Congress has considered how the Department of Defense (DOD) might support the U.S. government’s domestic response. Below are the funding, authorities, and descriptions of potential ways DOD might further contribute. Links in this product connect to more detailed information on the highlighted subjects.

President Donald J. Trump declared a U.S. national emergency on March 13, 2020. On Friday, March 20, the Federal Emergency Management Agency assumed the lead agency role in the Coronavirus Task Force under the National Response Framework (NRF) for...

U.S. Gasoline Prices: No Driving, No Benefits to Consumers

Prices Plummet

The collapse of crude oil prices is having consequences throughout the U.S. and global economies. For consumers, the effects of the price decline are felt nowhere more than in the price of gasoline. Gasoline is made from crude oil through the refining process, and the current decline in crude oil prices are a significant factor to the decrease in gasoline prices (Figure 1). There are four main components to retail gasoline prices according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA): 51% comes from crude oil prices, 20% from taxes, 18% from marketing and distribution...

COVID-19: Defense Support of Civil Authorities

The U.S. military has a long history of providing support to civil authorities, particularly in response to disasters or emergencies (examples include responding to yellow fever epidemics in 1873 and 1878). The Department of Defense (DOD) defines defense support of civil authorities as “Support provided by U.S. Federal military forces, DOD civilians, DOD contract personnel, DOD Component assets, and National Guard forces (when the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Governors of the affected States, elects and requests to use those forces in Title 32, U.S.C., status) in response...

U.S. Indictment of Top Venezuelan Officials

On March 26, 2020, Attorney General William Barr announced the indictment of Venezuela’s leader, Nicolás Maduro (whom the United States does not recognize as Venezuela’s legitimate president), and other current and former high-ranking Venezuelan officials. As charged, Maduro allegedly participated in the Cartel of the Suns drug trafficking organization in conspiracy with the Colombian terrorist organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), to produce and traffic illicit drugs to the United States.

Maduro’s indictment marks an escalation in U.S. efforts since January...

COVID-19 Congressional Oversight Commission (COC)

On March 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) into law (P.L. 116-136). Section 4020 of Title IV, Subtitle A, the Coronavirus Economic Stabilization Act of 2020, established a five-member Congressional Oversight Commission (COC) as one of several oversight mechanisms. The COC is to “conduct oversight of the implementation of this subtitle by the Department of the Treasury and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System,” report to Congress on the Treasury Secretary’s and the Federal Reserve Board of Governors’...

The CARES Act (P.L. 116-136) Section 4008: FDIC Bank Debt Guarantee Authority

Section 4008 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES; P.L. 116-136) authorizes the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to guarantee certain deposits that are not eligible for regular FDIC deposit insurance due to the existing $250,000 per account insurance limit. This broadens FDIC authority from Section 1105 of P.L. 111-203 (Dodd-Frank Act) to establish a program that would guarantee bank debt in the event of a financial liquidity crisis. Section 4008 also preemptively grants the requisite congressional approval for any such program needed to respond to...

The Economic Development Administration and the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136)

States and communities will be able to apply for funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) to plan and implement economic recovery strategies in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136) includes $1.5 billion for EDA to administer grants through its established Economic Adjustment Assistance (EAA) program. For years the EAA has been used to address ongoing economic restructuring needs. In FY2018 and FY2019, Congress used the EAA to fund economic recovery and resiliency...

COVID-19: The Potential Role of TANF in Addressing the Economic Effects

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant provides grants to the 50 states, District of Columbia, American Indian tribes, and certain territories with the broad purpose of ameliorating and addressing root causes of childhood economic disadvantage. Some of the flexibility the block grant affords to states has been used, and augmented by federal legislation, to address the fallout from Hurricane Katrina and the deep economic recession of 2007-2009.

Overview of TANF

TANF was created by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA,...

Support for Homeless Youth in the Context of COVID-19: A Brief Overview

The federal government provides targeted support for homeless teens and young adults primarily through the Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) program, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). As part of the federal response to COVID-19, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act, P.L. 116-136) includes provisions relevant to the RHY program. The CARES Act also includes provisions for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) Youth Homelessness Demonstration Grant and for Department of Education (ED) supports for...

“Technical Corrections” to Tax Reform

For some in Congress, “technical corrections” to the 2017 tax revision (commonly known as the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” or TCJA; P.L. 115-97) have been a legislative priority. It is not always clear, however, what is strictly a “technical correction.” This Insight highlights provisions that have been widely discussed as “technical corrections” to the 2017 tax revision, starting with provisions in former Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady’s 2019 “technical corrections” discussion draft. It then highlights other “fixes” to the 2017 tax revision that might be considered, even if...

Low Oil Prices and U.S. Oil Producers: Policy Considerations

Global oil prices have declined nearly 60% since January 2020 (see Figure 1). Following a brief period of geopolitically-driven upward price pressure resulting from events in Iraq and Libya, world oil supply/demand balances were projected to be oversupplied by the second quarter of 2020. Reduced travel and other economic impacts related to the evolving COVID-19 outbreak are suppressing near-term oil demand. Oversupply expectations were amplified when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and a group of non-OPEC countries (OPEC+), including Russia, failed to agree on...

COVID-19: Potential Impacts on the Electric Power Sector

The COVID-19 pandemic could impact the electric power sector directly (e.g., illness in the workforce) or indirectly (e.g., reduced economic activity caused by responses by governments, businesses, and the public at large). In the near-term (i.e., the next few weeks), most impacts will likely be caused by reduced economic activity. Long-term impacts are highly uncertain and likely depend on the pandemic’s ultimate toll on U.S. public health and the economy.

Potential impacts include reduced electricity demand, electric reliability risks, reduced utility bill payments, and delayed or...

Senior Nutrition Programs’ Response to COVID-19

Many older adults rely on federally funded programs that provide nutrition and other supportive services in order to live independently in their communities. Amidst the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, older adults as well as those with certain chronic conditions are at higher risk for severe illness if infected with the virus. Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that older adults stay home, among other precautions. Some state and local officials have issued more stringent guidance that older adults self-isolate at home or...

USDA Domestic Food Assistance Programs’ Response to COVID-19: P.L. 116-127, P.L. 116-136, and Related Efforts

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) programs are often part of emergency response efforts, providing program flexibilities, foods for distribution, and benefits for redemption. Emergencies generate different FNS responses, which can vary with states’ requests. During the COVID-19 pandemic, access to food—particularly in light of school closures—has been a concern for many. Some also view the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as a force for economic stimulus. This Insight discusses related provisions of the second and third COVID-19...

COVID-19: The Financial Industry and Consumers Struggling to Pay Bills

A growing number of cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) have been identified in the United States, significantly impacting many communities. For background on the coronavirus, see CRS In Focus IF11421, COVID-19: Global Implications and Responses, by Sara M. Tharakan et al. While this situation is evolving rapidly, the economic impact may be large due to illnesses, quarantines, and other business disruptions.

Consequently, many Americans may lose income and face financial hardship due to the coronavirus outbreak. This Insight focuses on regulatory and policy responses relating to...

Business Interruption Insurance and COVID-19

The economic disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic has led businesses and policymakers to ask whether insurance should cover associated losses. The loss of income from mandatory or voluntary closures, supply chain disruptions, and reduced demand due to social distancing measures may induce businesses of all sizes to seek compensation from insurers.

Commercial Property Insurance

Most businesses carry commercial property insurance, including coverage for damage to their building and contents due to a covered cause, such as a fire or windstorm. Such insurance may also cover loss of income...

Federal Reserve: Recent Actions in Response to COVID-19

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has created significant economic disruption. In response, the Federal Reserve (Fed) has taken a number of steps to promote economic and financial stability involving the Fed’s monetary policy and “lender of last resort” roles. Some of these actions are intended to stimulate economic activity by reducing interest rates and others are intended to provide liquidity to financial markets so that firms have access to needed funding.

Actions to Lower Interest Rates

Federal Funds Rate

Traditionally, the Fed conducts monetary policy by changing the federal funds rate, the...

COVID-19 and the Defense Industrial Base: DOD Response and Legislative Considerations

The Department of Defense (DOD) relies on a defense industrial base (DIB) for the products and services that enable DOD’s warfighting capabilities. The DIB includes private-sector commercial companies ranging in size from small businesses to some of the world’s largest enterprises—all of which have been impacted by the economic pressures associated with the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. For additional related resources, see the CRS COVID-19 homepage.

Critical Infrastructure and the DIB

The DIB is considered essential to U.S. national security, and to be part of U.S....

Public Transportation and Amtrak Funding in the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136)

On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136) was signed into law. Included in the act is a $25 billion appropriation from the general fund of the U.S. Treasury for public transportation agencies and another $1 billion for Amtrak. This emergency funding would support agencies in the midst of an unprecedented decline in ridership due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority has reported that in late March 2020 its rail ridership is down about 90% on a daily basis compared with equivalent...

Fostering Behavior Change During Disease Outbreaks: Insights from Ebola Response in Africa

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted governments worldwide to seek to change behaviors on a mass scale to stem new infections. (Click here for CRS resources on COVID-19.) The challenges and successes of analogous efforts during the two largest Ebola outbreaks to date—in West Africa (2014-2016), and in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), starting in 2018 and now seemingly waning—may offer lessons for current efforts to contain COVID-19, even though the two viruses differ in significant ways.

Dubbed by some a “disease of social intimacy,” Ebola is transmitted through direct contact...

COVID-19 and Regulation of Public Drinking Water

During infectious disease outbreaks, questions regarding public water supplies may emerge, as a safe and adequate water supply is a key component to protecting public health. As the United States and other countries respond to the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), questions may arise regarding the potential for the COVID-19 virus to be present in public water supplies.

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that “Americans can...

COVID-19: State and Local Shut-Down Orders and Exemptions for Critical Infrastructure

Since the onset of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in the United States, public officials have issued numerous emergency directives closing non-essential businesses and facilities and instructing non-essential workers to stay home. However, these directives have generally included exemptions for essential businesses and other facilities if they are part of a critical infrastructure sector or provide essential services.

Some business leaders have invoked federal authorities and guidelines when contesting state or local orders that would affect their operations....

COVID-19 and Direct Payments to Individuals: Estimated Impact of Recovery Rebates in H.R. 748 on Family Incomes

H.R. 748 (CARES Act), as passed by the Senate on March 25, 2020, includes many provisions designed to provide emergency relief to the economy in response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. One such provision of H.R. 748 is the “2020 recovery rebate,” a direct payment made to individuals. Similar “recovery rebates” were sent to individuals in response to the 2001 and 2008 recessions. Several Members of Congress have recently proposed varying forms of direct payment, and two earlier versions of the CARES Act (S. 3548 and a draft circulated on March 22, 2020) also included a direct...

COVID-19: Industrial Mobilization and Defense Production Act (DPA) Implementation

On March 18, President Trump issued Executive Order 13909, Prioritizing and Allocating Health and Medical Resources to Respond to the Spread of COVID–19, which announced the President’s invocation of the Defense Production Act of 1950 (DPA) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The administration has yet to publicly provide direction to the private sector under this authority.

This Insight considers possible future DPA implementation processes, industrial mobilization, and congressional considerations concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, and is a companion to CRS Insight IN11231. See CRS...

COVID-19 and Corporate Debt Market Stress

U.S. companies are carrying record levels of debt to finance their operations and growth (Figure 1). Corporate debt largely consists of bonds and, to a lesser extent, leveraged loans, bank loans, and other liabilities. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is the primary regulator overseeing the debt capital markets. In recent years, financial authorities have become increasingly vocal about the buildup of the higher-risk portions of the corporate debt market. This Insight explains the market’s composition and risks in the context of the current coronavirus (COVID-19)-induced...

Comparison of the FY2020 and FY2021 Precision-Guided Munitions Procurement Requests

Precision-guided munitions (PGMs) have become an important capability for the Department of Defense (DOD). Recent operations, including counter-insurgency and counterterrorism missions, have demonstrated a high demand for all types of PGMs, which DOD defines as a “guided weapon intended to destroy a point target and minimize collateral damage.” Some analysts argue a high-intensity conflict would require large stockpiles of such weapons, in addition to the demand from operations in the Middle East. Then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated that PGMs are required to help rebuild...

Congressional Oversight Provisions in P.L. 116-127, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

President Donald Trump signed P.L. 116-127 (H.R. 6201), the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, on March 18, 2020. The act provides supplemental appropriations for nutrition assistance programs and public health services and authorizes the Internal Revenue Service to implement tax credits for paid emergency sick leave and expanded family medical leave that the act requires certain employers to provide. In addition, the law adjusts the unemployment insurance program to waive temporarily certain eligibility requirements and provide more federal financial support to the states.

P.L....

Required Minimum Distributions from Retirement Accounts Under the Economic Stimulus Proposals Related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

On March 22, 2020, the Senate released an updated version of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act containing a provision for suspending the penalty for failure to make the required minimum distribution (RMD) from retirement accounts for 2020. A similar provision was included in a proposal in the House released on March 23, the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act.

What Are Required Minimum Distributions?

Under current law, required minimum distributions must be withdrawn from individual retirement plans to avoid a 50% penalty on the required minimum...

FY2020 Defense Reprogrammings for Wall Funding: Backgrounder

On February 13, 2020, the Department of Defense (DOD) transferred $3.8 billion from defense procurement programs to the Army Operation and Maintenance account for use by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for the construction of 31 additional barrier projects along the southern border of the United States. Table 1. Summary of FY2020 DOD Reprogramming Action to Support the Border Wall ($ in thousands) Base or OCO / Appropriation Amount Percentage

Base $2,202,000 57.48%

 Aircraft Procurement, Air Force
 $532,000
 24.16%

 Aircraft Procurement, Navy
 $558,000
...

Responding to the COVID-19 Outbreak with Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Authorities

In response to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, some in Congress have suggested using the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program as a vehicle for providing financial relief to states and communities. Congress has regularly instituted a special variant of CDBG for long-term disaster recovery, known as CDBG-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR). This Insight considers the potential role of CDBG and CDBG-DR as economic development countermeasures to the coronavirus outbreak. For more information on the health and epidemiological aspects of COVID-19, see CRS products R46219 and...

Bolivia Postpones May Elections Amidst COVID-19 Outbreak

On March 22, 2020, Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) suspended preparations for national elections scheduled for May 3 following Interim President Jeanette Añez’s declaration of a two-week national quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Bolivia remains extremely polarized following annulled October 2019 elections alleged to be marred by fraud and the November resignation of President Evo Morales of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party. Morales’s former finance minister Luis Arce had been leading the polls. According to the TSE, the MAS-led Congress may need to enact...

COVID-19 and Direct Payments to Individuals: Summary of the 2020 Economic Assistance Payments in H.R. 6379, the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act

The Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act (H.R. 6379), introduced in the House on Monday, March 23, 2020, proposes direct payments to individuals and families—referred to as “2020 economic assistance payments to individuals.” This Insight provides a brief overview of these proposed payments.

Generally, for individuals and families that filed an income tax return, the economic assistance payment would be an advanced refundable tax credit that they would automatically receive in 2020 as a direct deposit or check by mail. Most recipients of Social Security or Supplemental Security...

Emergency Funding for Public Transportation Agencies Due to COVID-19

Public Transportation Agency Budgets

The COVID-19 pandemic has reportedly resulted in a swift and large loss of public transportation ridership and fare revenue. Examples in the early days of the crisis include an 88% loss of ridership for New Jersey Transit, a 60% loss of subway ridership for New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a 60% loss for Denver’s Regional Transportation District, and a 90% loss for Bay Area Rapid Transit in San Francisco. Many transit agencies, including the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, have responded by cutting service, encouraging...

COVID-19 and Funding for Civil Aviation

The COVID-19 pandemic has created headwinds for the airline industry. Out of health concerns, customers were canceling international air travel to China and other affected countries in Asia as early as January 2020. Since then, travel restrictions imposed by governments around the world as well as suspension of nonessential travel by businesses and organizations have led to a sharp drop in air travel. These developments could also have significant implications for civil aviation programs.

The International Air Transport Association, an airline industry group, projected on March 17 that the...

COVID-19 and Direct Payments to Individuals: Summary of the 2020 Recovery Rebates in the CARES Act, as Circulated March 22

Legislative text of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, circulated on Sunday, March 22, 2020, proposes direct payments to individuals and families—“2020 recovery rebates.” This Insight provides a brief overview of the proposed 2020 recovery rebates included in the text circulated on March 22, which differ from those included in the legislation introduced on March 19.

The proposed 2020 recovery rebates equal $1,200 per person ($2,400 for married taxpayers filing a joint tax return) and $500 per child. These amounts would phase down for higher-income taxpayers....

Targeted Tax Relief for Industries Impacted by the Coronavirus: Selected Policy Issues

One of the policy options being considered to minimize the damage to the U.S. economy from the domestic spread of the coronavirus is tax relief targeted at industries that have experienced substantial drops in revenue. To date, growing numbers of cruise lines, airlines, hotels, restaurants, retailers, and energy producers seem to have been hit the hardest by the economic impact of the virus. Depending on what happens to the spread of the coronavirus within the United States in coming weeks, other industries could be similarly affected. The prospect of a prolonged domestic coronavirus...

COVID-19 and Stimulus Payments to Individuals: Potential Impacts of Direct Payments on Family Incomes

Several Members of Congress and the Trump Administration have proposed direct cash payments as part of a fiscal response to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Direct cash payments have previously been part of the federal government’s response to economic downturns, most recently in 2001 and 2008. In general, the purpose of direct payments is twofold: (1) they allow families to spend more, and through a multiplier effect help to stimulate the economy; and (2) they provide resources to help meet basic needs for those whose income has decreased due to COVID-19 infection or...

State and Local Fiscal Conditions and Economic Shocks

Policymaker attention to the COVID-19 economic shock has included its potential effect on state and local governments. This Insight summarizes the underlying forces affecting state and local finances following a negative economic shock, examines tools available to them in response to such forces, and briefly discusses federal assistance offered in recent recessions.

State and Local Finances and Economic Shocks

State and local governments are an integral part of U.S. economic activity, with $3.7 trillion in 2017 spending (19% of GDP). Federal, state, and local government revenues tend to...

COVID-19 and Stimulus Payments to Individuals: Summary of the 2020 Recovery Rebates in the CARES Act (S. 3548)

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (S. 3548) proposes direct payments of up to $1,200 per person ($2,400 for married taxpayers filing a joint tax return) and $500 per child—“2020 recovery rebates.” Similar to the 2008 recovery rebates, these payments are structured as tax credits advanced to households that file an income tax return. Taxpayers that filed a 2018 income tax return would have this credit advanced to them in 2020, generally in the form of a direct deposit or check by mail. Thus, these taxpayers do not need to wait until 2020 tax returns are filed in...

H.R. 6201: Paid Leave and Unemployment Insurance Responses to COVID-19

This Insight provides summary information on the paid leave and unemployment insurance (UI) provisions in the House-passed version of H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, including the technical corrections made by H.Res. 904. For a general discussion of current workplace leave policies and UI programs and benefits, including considerations related to COVID-19, see CRS Insight IN11233, Workplace Leave and Unemployment Insurance for Individuals Affected by COVID-19. For additional legislation introduced related to UI and COVID-19, see CRS Report R45478, Unemployment...

COVID-19 and Passenger Airline Travel

The COVID-19 global pandemic presents particular risks and challenges to commercial passenger airline travel. Taking a passenger flight involves numerous interpersonal interactions, transiting through often crowded airport terminals, and sitting in close proximity to others for extended periods, both onboard aircraft and at airport gates. These activities may increase the probability of exposure to infectious disease.

Curtailing infectious disease spread through airline travel is challenging, in part because the passenger airline system in the United States is highly concentrated around 30...

COVID-19 Economic Stimulus: Business Payroll Tax Cuts

The economic fallout from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has accelerated rapidly. Policymakers continue to evaluate tax policy economic relief options. Payroll tax cuts for businesses are one option that would provide economic assistance to business activities.

Business Payroll Taxes

Payroll taxes are collected to finance certain entitlement programs, including Social Security, parts of Medicare, and Unemployment Compensation (UC). Social Security’s old age, survivors, and disability insurance (OASDI) payroll tax is paid by both employers and employees, and it finances the Social Security...

Presidential Declarations of Emergency for COVID-19: NEA and Stafford Act

This Insight provides an overview of the presidential declarations of emergency made under the National Emergencies Act (NEA; 50 U.S.C. §§1601 et seq.) and the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act; 42 U.S.C. §§5121 et seq.) in response to the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). Table 1 describes select differences between these types of declarations and their authorities. This Insight does not discuss other actions mentioned by the President, or federal agencies (other than the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)) that have been, or may be,...

COVID-19: Cybercrime Opportunities and Law Enforcement Response

Opportunistic criminals and other malicious actors exploit the internet and rapidly evolving technology to their advantage. Criminals can compromise financial assets; hacktivists can flood websites with traffic, effectively shutting them down; and spies can steal intellectual property and government secrets. And, they capitalize on ever changing world events. Federal officials have cautioned about scams relating to the outbreak of disease caused by a previously unidentified strain of coronavirus, designated Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19. They have noted that “[c]yber actors may...

COVID-19 and Direct Payments to Individuals: Historical Precedents

Members of Congress and the Trump Administration have signaled their support for making direct payments to individuals to address the economic fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak. In current discussions, these payments are sometimes framed in terms of “universal basic income” or UBI proposals. In the past when these proposals were made—and sometimes enacted—they were framed in terms of providing economic stimulus.

Historical Precedents

There are historical precedents for such payments; most of these were done through the federal income tax code. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sent...

COVID-19 and Direct Payments to Individuals: How Did the 2008 Recovery Rebates Work?

In response to concerns about an economic slowdown stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers have been considering a broad array of policy options. Some are targeted directly toward individuals and industries that may be most affected. Others would more broadly seek to stimulate the economy. Among this latter category of policies, some have proposed direct cash payments sent to virtually all U.S. households.

In 2008 Congress enacted direct cash payments—the 2008 recovery rebates—that were tax credits advanced to households that had filed an income tax return. A portion of these...

COVID-19 and Stimulus Payments to Individuals: How the 2009 Economic Recovery Payment Worked

In response to concerns about an economic slowdown due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, some lawmakers have expressed interest in providing direct cash payments to Americans. One option to provide such payments would be to establish a new advanced refundable tax credit, as was done in 2008 with “recovery rebates.” Although this option would disburse payments to the vast majority of Americans relatively quickly, it would not directly help those who do not file a federal income tax return. A 2017 study found that “nonfilers” were more likely to be seniors or recipients of...

Overview of Initial Responses to COVID-19 by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts and by Select Courts Within the Federal Judiciary

This CRS Insight provides information related to initial responses to Coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19, by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts and select courts within the federal judiciary. Consequently, this Insight is not intended to provide a comprehensive overview of the policies and practices adopted by each federal court or judicial entity. Additionally, given the rapidly changing situation surrounding COVID-19, the information provided in this Insight may be superseded by new information from that which is described in the text below. If there are any questions regarding...

The Defense Production Act (DPA) and COVID-19: Key Authorities and Policy Considerations

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic evolves, the United States faces drug and medical supply scarcities due to disrupted supply chains and increased demand. In response, the President may exercise emergency authorities under the Defense Production Act of 1950 (DPA; 50 U.S.C. §§4501 et seq.) to address supply shortages and economic development impacts. During a press conference on March 18, 2020, the President indicated that he would invoke the DPA to address domestic essential goods and materials shortages caused by the pandemic. This Insight considers the various DPA authorities that...

SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans for COVID-19

The current COVID-19 pandemic may have significant economic implications for businesses and nonprofit organizations, including negative impacts on imports, global supply chains, and tourism. Furthermore, if COVID-19 becomes increasingly widespread or prolonged it may slow global growth, and some businesses may be forced to furlough or lay off workers. One potential form of assistance to small businesses is Small Business Administration (SBA) economic injury disaster loans (EIDLs).

EIDL Overview

EIDLs provide eligible small businesses and nonprofit organizations up to $2 million to help...

What If the Philippines Ends the Visiting Forces Agreement?

On February 10, 2020, the Government of the Philippines submitted to the U.S. Embassy in Manila a “notice of termination” of the Philippines-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). The VFA governs the legal status of U.S. military forces operating in the Philippines and establishes rules by which U.S. troops, vessels and aircraft may enter the country. The notification started a 180-day review period; the agreement itself will expire at the end of that time. The VFA has been in effect since 1999, eight years after the Philippines rejected a treaty that would have extended the U.S. lease of...

Tax Credit for Paid Sick and Family Leave in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) (Updated)

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) includes an employer tax credit for the paid sick and family leave required as part of this legislation. This tax credit is intended to cover the cost to businesses of providing paid leave to address the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. This Insight provides an overview of the tax credits, including the corrections included in H.Res. 904, as passed by the House on March 16, 2020.

Tax Credits for Paid Leave

The employer payroll tax credit is for wages paid to fulfill the new leave requirements. The Emergency Paid Sick Leave...

COVID-19 and Direct Payments to Individuals: Considerations on Using Advanced Refundable Credits as Economic Stimulus

In response to concerns about an economic slowdown stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers have been considering a broad array of policy options. Some are targeted directly toward the individuals and industries that may be most affected. Others would more broadly seek to stimulate the economy. Among this latter category of policies, some have suggested a payroll tax cut, while others have proposed direct cash payments—“recovery rebates”—to virtually all households. One mechanism to provide cash payments relatively quickly is to create a new refundable tax credit and then advance...

COVID-19: Potential Role of Net Operating Loss (NOL) Carrybacks in Addressing the Economic Effects

A number of industries may suffer losses in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak. The travel and tourism industry, and restaurant industry, appear particularly susceptible at the moment due to an uptick in canceled reservations and a reduction in bookings. Other industries are likely to be impacted as well by a drop-off in consumer spending and a resulting reduction in profits, with the impacts likely increasing if COVID-19 continues to spread.

Before 2018, businesses with losses could “carry back” net operating losses (NOL) and use them to receive a refund...

Workplace Leave and Unemployment Insurance for Individuals Affected by COVID-19

This Insight provides a brief overview of the current availability of job-connected assistance to individuals, which may be relevant to the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Specifically, this product discusses workplace leave, paid and unpaid, that may be available to workers affected by the virus, as well as unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. It also discusses policy options to amend or expand existing UI programs to be more responsive to the effects of COVID-19.

Workplace Leave

Workers affected by COVID-19 may seek to use paid or unpaid workplace leave for their own...

COVID-19 and the Cruise Ship Industry

The cruise ship industry has been heavily impacted by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Major cruise lines have canceled trips from U.S. ports over the next month. In recent weeks, several cruise ships have been quarantined offshore and U.S government health officials have advised against cruise ship travel for the time being. These events have raised questions about government oversight over the cruise industry, the potential economic harm the coronavirus could have on the industry, and whether the industry is largely America- or foreign-based.

Employment in the Cruise Ship...

Power Generation and Electric Reliability in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Two and a half years after Hurricanes Irma and Maria damaged 80% to 90% of the power transmission and distribution systems across the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), financial and infrastructure issues continue to challenge the U.S. Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA). A combination of infrastructure needs and cash flow challenges has impacted electricity rates. As of February 1, 2020, electricity rates were approximately $0.40 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for residential customers (for the first 250 kWh) and approximately $0.47/kWh for commercial customers. In 2017, prior to the...

Sunshine Week: Selected Issues for Congress

Coinciding with former President James Madison’s birthday, Sunshine Week recognizes the importance of transparency in government operations, and the work of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA; 5 U.S.C. §552) professionals across the federal government. Considered a defender of open government, Madison wrote, “A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; And the people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power, which knowledge...

COVID-19 and Broadband: Potential Implications for the Digital Divide

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, approximately 21.3 million Americans lack a broadband connection speed of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download/3 Mbps upload, which is the FCC’s benchmark for high-speed broadband. In the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, federal, local, and state governments, in addition to large and small businesses, are considering remote working or distance learning options to help abate the spread of the virus. As these decisions are made, some portion of the population will likely have...

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Poses Challenges for the U.S. Blood Supply

The current Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak may pose significant challenges for the United States’ blood supply. Mitigation strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as closures of schools and workplaces, have led to blood drive cancellations, resulting in a critical blood supply shortage in the Pacific Northwest (specifically, western Washington and Oregon). School closures, event cancellations, and other mitigation strategies in other areas of the country may provide challenges for maintaining a sufficient blood supply. The management and distribution of the U.S....

The Stafford Act Emergency Declaration for COVID-19

This Insight provides an overview of emergency declarations under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (hereinafter the Stafford Act, P.L. 93-288, as amended; 42 U.S.C. §§5121 et seq.). It describes the forms of assistance authorized pursuant to President Donald J. Trump’s March 13, 2020 emergency declaration under the Stafford Act in all U.S. states and territories in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Stafford Act Emergency Declaration for COVID-19

The President’s emergency declaration, pursuant to Stafford Act Section 501(b),...

Oversight Provisions in H.R. 6074, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act

President Donald Trump signed H.R. 6074, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, on March 6, 2020. It provides a total of $8.3 billion in supplemental funding to support the response of the United States to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Prior to the passage of H.R. 6074, Congress had already begun to oversee the federal government’s response to COVID-19 with committee hearings in both the House and the Senate. Other committees are planning additional hearings in the coming weeks, and the Trump Administration has also been providing regular...

Tax Cuts as Fiscal Stimulus: Comparing a Payroll Tax Cut to a One-Time Tax Rebate

The Trump Administration and certain Members of Congress have expressed interest in a temporary payroll tax reduction as a fiscal stimulus response to economic concerns resulting from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Other lawmakers have emphasized that, with respect to tax-relief proposals, “everything’s on the table.” This sentiment reflects potential uncertainty in both the current economic outlook and what tax policy options might be most effective as the coronavirus outbreak evolves. An alternative to a temporary payroll tax reduction that might be considered, and has been...

COVID-19: Potential Economic Effects

This Insight discusses the potential economic effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on the U.S. economy. For background on the coronavirus, see CRS In Focus IF11421, COVID-19: Global Implications and Responses, by Sara M. Tharakan et al.

Channels Through Which the Virus Could Affect the Economy

Although the COVID-19 outbreak presently is most widespread abroad, it will directly affect foreign demand for U.S. exports of goods and services. As discussed in this CRS In Focus, the coronavirus could also disrupt U.S. companies’ international supply chains. If COVID-19 becomes widespread in the...

Payroll Tax Cuts as an Economic Stimulus Response to Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

The current coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has increased concerns that the U.S. economy could be affected as part of a global economic downturn. A range of fiscal and monetary policy tools have been used to address prior times of economic weakness. One option for fiscal stimulus is a temporary payroll tax cut for employees. This option was used to address economic weakness in 2011 and 2012. On March 2, 2020, President Trump and others expressed interest in a one-year payroll tax cut to help bolster the economy.

What Are Payroll Taxes?

Payroll taxes are collected to finance certain...

Stafford Act Assistance for Public Health Incidents

This Insight provides a brief overview of presidential declarations under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (hereinafter the Stafford Act—42 U.S.C. §5121 et seq.) that could be authorized in response to public health incidents. It also provides examples of Stafford Act declarations that have been previously issued to address public health hazards, including infectious disease incidents, which may be relevant to the current outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Overview

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

COVID-19: Federal Economic Development Tools and Potential Responses

The current coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has led to tens of thousands of cases and thousands of deaths worldwide. In addition to the disease’s mortality and public health effects, it may have potentially significant economic implications, including productivity losses, supply chain disruptions, labor dislocation, and potential financial pressure on businesses and households. Relatively few federal programs are available to provide timely economic relief to affected businesses. This Insight considers the outbreak’s economic development implications and policy considerations for...

FY2020 LHHS Appropriations: Status

On December 20, 2019, the President signed into law the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-94). This law contains full-year FY2020 appropriations for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) in Division A. The FY2020 LHHS annual appropriations total more than $1 trillion, when accounting for both mandatory and discretionary funding. Previously, FY2020 LHHS funding had been provided on a temporary basis by two continuing resolutions (P.L. 116-59, P.L. 116-69).

Scope of the Bill

The LHHS bill provides the annually...

Foreign Assistance for International Conservation

The United States provides foreign assistance to support myriad global objectives, including the conservation of wildlife and ecosystems. The United States provides foreign assistance in the form of financial, programmatic, and technical support to address international conservation activities. International conservation activities include those relating to species protection, habitat restoration, and forest recovery, among other priorities. Several federal agencies administer these programs, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department...

FY2021 Defense Budget Request: An Overview

The FY2021 President’s budget request includes $753.5 billion in budget authority for national defense. National defense is one of 20 major functions used by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to aggregate budget dataand the largest in terms of discretionary spending. The national defense budget function (identified by the numerical notation 050) comprises three subfunctions: Department of Defense (DOD)–Military (051); atomic energy defense activities primarily of the Department of Energy (053); and other defense-related activities (054), such as FBI counterintelligence...

The International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and Tariffs: Historical Background and Key Issues

On May 30, 2019, President Donald J. Trump announced his intention to use the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) (50 U.S.C. §§1701 et seq.) to impose a 5% tariff on all goods imported from Mexico effective June 10, 2019. The tariff, he said, would gradually increase until “the illegal migration crisis is alleviated through effective actions taken by Mexico.” On June 7, 2019, the President stated that the tariffs were “indefinitely suspended” because Mexico had “agreed to take strong measures to ... stem the tide of migration.”

Presidents may invoke IEEPA in response to an...

FERC Directs PJM to Expand Minimum Offer Price Rule

On December 18, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an order directing the PJM regional transmission organization (RTO) to expand its Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR) as a move to address subsidies to electric power generation resources by states, with certain exemptions. FERC stated that it acted “to protect the competitive capacity market administered by PJM” by requiring PJM to expand its MOPR to apply to any new or existing power generation resource that receives, or is entitled to receive, a state subsidy, unless a FERC-determined exemption applies. FERC...

Management of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) in the Military

On January 7, 2020, the Department of Defense (DOD) reported that the Islamic Republic of Iran launched a number of ballistic missiles at certain Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. and coalition military forces. These forces utilize Iraqi military bases to support counter-terrorism operations within the region, including military actions against the Islamic State under Operation Inherent Resolve. DOD initially reported no U.S. or coalition casualties, then later stated that 34 U.S. servicemembers assigned to these locations were subsequently diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI)...

Currency Manipulation and Countervailing Duties

On February 4, 2020, the Commerce Department issued a final rule that paves the way for imposing tariffs on imports from countries determined by the U.S. government to be undervaluing their currency relative to the U.S. dollar. Various Members of Congress have debated such a policy for years, including in 2013 and 2015, but Congress has refrained from legislating it due to a variety of concerns.

Currency Manipulation

For more than a decade, some policymakers and analysts have expressed concerns that U.S. exports and jobs have been harmed by unfair exchange rate policies of other countries...

Recent Developments in the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

On January 31, 2020, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv. The meeting occurred during the Senate’s presidential impeachment trial and almost two months after the relaunch of international talks on resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Pompeo expressed the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and stated that the United States would continue to provide security assistance to Ukraine.

Pompeo also acknowledged Zelensky’s efforts to invigorate a relatively dormant conflict-resolution process...

PHMSA’s Pipeline Safety Reauthorization: Funding Issues

Introduction

The federal pipeline safety program is administered by the Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), working with state pipeline safety regulators. Together, the federal and state agencies regulate the safety of the nation’s hazardous liquid (e.g., crude oil) and natural gas pipelines. Under the PIPES Act of 2016 (P.L. 114-183), funding authorization for PHMSA’s pipeline safety program expired on October 1, 2019. Although the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-94) includes pipeline safety...

Congress May Consider Options to Extend Expiring Funds for Primary Care

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), enacted in March 2010, appropriated mandatory funds to support 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 mandatory ACA funds for these programs were initially provided for five years. Funding for each of these three programs had...

Funding for ACA-Established Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund (PCORTF) Extended Through FY2029

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA, P.L. 111-148, as amended) authorized the establishment of a private, nonprofit, tax-exempt corporation called the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) at Social Security Act (SSA) Section 1181. This built on provisions in prior law that expanded the federal government’s role in comparative effectiveness research (CER). The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (ARRA, P.L. 111-5) provided a total of $1.1 billion for CER and required an Institute of Medicine report with recommendations on national CER...

Egypt: Death of American Citizen and Congressional Response

Overview

On January 13, 2020, Mustafa Kassem, a dual U.S.-Egyptian citizen who had been detained in Egypt since 2013, died of heart failure in an Egyptian prison after a two-year hunger strike. The Egyptian government has defended its treatment of Kassem, claiming that he received adequate medical care and legal rights. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo called Kassem’s death “pointless and tragic.”

Some Members of Congress had long been concerned for Kassem, arguing that Egyptian authorities unlawfully detained and wrongfully convicted him. Kassem’s death has upset some in Congress,...

Lebanon Forms New Government Amid Economic Crisis, Ongoing Protests

On January 21, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced the formation of a new Lebanese government, 85 days after nationwide protests triggered the resignation of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The new cabinet is comprised entirely of parties allied with the March 8 political bloc—headed by the Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Hezbollah, and the Amal Movement—leading some to describe it as one-sided. The new government faces significant challenges, including ongoing protests and an escalating economic crisis. However, the political composition of the new government—and the...

Advance Refunding Bonds and P.L. 115-97

On January 29, 2020, the chairs of the House Transportation and Infrastructure, Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means Committees released the Moving Forward Framework, which would invest roughly $760 billion in infrastructure projects over a five-year period. Among other things, the draft would reinstate the ability to issue federally tax-exempt advance refunding bonds, whose issuance authority was repealed by the 2017 tax revision (P.L. 115-97; sometimes referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, or TCJA). This Insight briefly describes advance refunding bonds, summarizes recently...

Israel and the Palestinians: U.S. Peace Plan and Possible Israeli Annexation

President Trump released a long-promised “Peace to Prosperity” plan for Israel and the Palestinians on January 28, 2020, after obtaining support from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Netanyahu’s main political rival Benny Gantz. The release and Netanyahu’s announced intention to annex parts of the Israeli military-controlled West Bank might affect a closely-contested Israeli election scheduled for March 2—the third in the past year pitting Netanyahu (who has been indicted on corruption charges) and Gantz against one another. Members of Congress have had mixed reactions to the...

Another Coronavirus Emerges: U.S. Domestic Response to 2019-nCoV

The Emergence of 2019-nCoV

On December 31, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was informed of a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China. Illnesses have since been linked to a previously unidentified strain of coronavirus, designated 2019 novel Coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV. To date, thousands have been infected, mostly in China, and over 100 have died. The disease has spread to several other countries, including the United States. As the scope of the epidemic widened in China, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated on January 27, 2020, that “the immediate...

Escalating U.S. Tariffs: Timeline

The trade practices of U.S. trading partners and the U.S. trade deficit are a focus of the Trump Administration. Citing these and other concerns, the President has imposed tariff increases under three U.S. laws:

(1) Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974 (Table 1) on U.S. imports of washing machines and solar products due to concerns over their injurious effects on domestic U.S. industry;

(2) Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 (Table 2) on U.S. imports of steel and aluminum, and potentially motor vehicles/parts and titanium sponge due to concerns that imports threaten to impair...

Escalating U.S. Tariffs: Affected Trade

The trade practices of U.S. trading partners and the U.S. trade deficit are a focus of the Trump Administration. Citing these and other concerns, the President has imposed tariff increases under three U.S. laws:

(1) Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974 on U.S. imports of washing machines and solar products, due to concerns over their injurious effects on domestic U.S. industry;

(2) Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 on U.S. imports of steel and aluminum, and potentially motor vehicles and titanium sponge, due to concerns that imports threaten to impair the national security;...

Immigration: DHS Final Rule on Public Charge

On January 27, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) lifted two nationwide preliminary injunctions that blocked the implementation of the public charge final rule. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published this rule on August 14, 2019, and it was set to take effect on October 15, 2019. Multiple lawsuits and preliminary injunctions had halted the rule; the SCOTUS’ ruling now permits its implementation while litigation on the merits continues. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it will begin enforcing the new regulations on February 24, 2020,...

Burma Ordered to Prevent Genocide Against Rohingya

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on January 23, 2020, ordered Burma to undertake four “provisional measures” to prevent genocidal acts against the Rohingya and “prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of evidence related to allegations of [genocidal] acts.”

The ICJ order comes two days after Burma’s Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) submitted its final report to Burma’s President Win Myint, indicating that while it had obtained evidence that “war crimes and serious human rights violations” may have occurred during the 2017 “clearance operations” in Rakhine...

Corruption in Honduras: End of the Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH)

On January 19, 2020, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández allowed the mandate of the Organization of American States (OAS)-backed Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) to expire. The U.S. Congress had provided significant financial and political support for the MACCIH throughout its four-year mandate as the mission helped Honduran institutions deter and investigate high-level corruption. A bipartisan group of Members had also repeatedly called on President Hernández to extend the mission’s mandate. The MACCIH’s closure could negatively...

U.S. Signs Phase One Trade Deal with China

President Trump on January 15, 2020, signed a phase one trade agreement with the Chinese government that is intended to resolve some of the trade and investment issues the Administration raised in March 2018, pursuant to Section 301 of the U.S. Trade Act of 1974. Including appendices, the agreement is 96 pages and covers some aspects of intellectual property (IP) (Chapter 1), technology transfer (Chapter 2), agriculture (Chapter 3), financial services (Chapter 4), macroeconomic policies and exchange rates (Chapter 5), trade purchases (Chapter 6), and dispute resolution (Chapter 7)....

Possible Use of FY2020 Defense Funds for Border Barrier Construction: Context and Questions

On January 13, 2020, the Washington Post reported that the Trump Administration plans to reallocate $7.2 billion in Department of Defense (DOD) appropriations to construct barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. Of this amount, $3.7 billion would reportedly come from deferring congressionally approved military construction (MILCON) projects. An additional $3.5 billion would be redirected through DOD’s Drug Interdiction and Counter-Drug Activities account (hereinafter counter-drug transfer account). If the Administration were to carry out the actions as described by the Washington Post, DOD...

Special Diabetes Programs Expire in FY2020: Policy Considerations and Extension Proposals

Under the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-33), Congress amended the Public Health Service Act (PHSA) to create two special diabetes programs. The first—the Special Diabetes Program for Type I Diabetes (PHSA §330B; U.S.C. 42 §254c-2)—provides funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to award grants to study type I diabetes. The second—the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (PHSA §330C; U.S.C. 42 §254c-3)—provides funding to the Indian Health Service (IHS) to award grants for activities related to preventing and treating diabetes for American Indians and Alaska Natives at...

The Kiddie Tax and Military Survivors’ Benefits

Some military families discovered that they owed higher taxes for 2018 and 2019 on distributions from their military survivors’ benefits than they had in previous years. This change in tax treatment was related to temporary changes to the “kiddie tax” in the 2017 tax revision (P.L. 115-97). However, Congress enacted language in the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-94) that repealed those temporary changes to the kiddie tax beginning in 2020. In addition, P.L. 116-94 enables taxpayers to retroactively elect to be taxed as if the kiddie tax changes in P.L. 115-97 did...

FDIC Proposes Changes to Brokered Deposit Regulation

On December 12, 2019, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) proposed changes to current rules that restrict banks that are not well capitalized from accepting brokered deposits, a perennial point of contention between banks and regulators. Recently, banks and financial technology companies have developed or begun using new arrangements that may qualify as brokered deposits. This development has refocused attention on the issue.

Background

Core deposits are the funds individuals or companies directly place in checking and savings accounts, primarily to utilize the safekeeping,...

National Flood Insurance Program Borrowing Authority

This Insight evaluates the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) borrowing authority to receive loans from the Treasury and 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). The NFIP is funded from receipts from the premiums of flood insurance policies, including fees and surcharges; direct annual appropriations for specific costs of the NFIP (only for flood mapping); and borrowing from the Treasury when the NFIF’s balance has been insufficient to pay the NFIP’s...

A Brief Introduction to the National Flood Insurance Program: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

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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.) and is the primary source of flood insurance coverage for residential properties in the United States. The NFIP has two main policy goals: (1) to provide access to primary flood insurance, thereby allowing for the transfer of some of the financial risk from property owners to the federal government, and (2) to mitigate and reduce the nation’s comprehensive flood risk through the development and implementation of...

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

This Insight provides a short overview of what would happen if the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) were not to be reauthorized by September 30, 2020, and allowed to lapse.

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, termination, or sunset provision for the whole of the program. Rather, the NFIP has multiple different legal provisions that tie to the expiration...

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

The National Flood Insurance Program

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, the NFIP was reauthorized until September 30, 2020, (P.L. 116-93). 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 terms...

Foreign Interference in NIH Research: Policy Implications

Recent congressional hearings and media reports have raised the issue of foreign interference in research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the primary federal agency for biomedical research and development (R&D). An NIH investigation, conducted in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), uncovered numerous potential violations of laws and policies (some confirmed, others subject to ongoing investigation), including

scientists involved in the NIH peer review process sharing details of research proposals with foreign entities;

failure of scientists to...

The Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance and the Crisis in Venezuela

On September 11, 2019, the United States and 11 other Western Hemisphere countries invoked the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty) to facilitate a regional response to the crisis in Venezuela. As a first step, on September 23, 2019, the countries that have ratified the treaty (states parties) agreed to identify, prosecute, and freeze the assets of certain individuals and entities associated with the government of Nicolás Maduro. On December 3, 2019, the states parties approved an initial list of 29 individuals alleged to have engaged in corruption and/or human...

Uruguay’s 2019 Elections

On November 24, 2019, Uruguayans narrowly elected Luis Lacalle Pou of the center-right National Party in a presidential runoff election. Lacalle Pou’s inauguration, scheduled for March 1, 2020, will end the center-left Broad Front coalition’s 15-year hold on power and could usher in several changes to Uruguay’s economic and security policies. The new government is also likely to align more closely with the United States on some foreign policy issues, such as efforts, supported by Congress, to facilitate the restoration of democracy in Venezuela.

Domestic Context

As much of the Latin...

Activities-Based Regulation and Systemic Risk

Past financial crises have shown that systemic risk can emanate from financial firms or activities. It can be caused by the failure of a large firm (hence, the moniker “too big to fail”) or it can be caused by correlated losses among many small market participants. Although historical financial crises have centered on banks, nonbank financial firms were also a source of instability in the 2007-2009 crisis.

The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act (P.L. 111-203) enhanced the regulation of certain financial firms and activities to reduce systemic risk, particularly prudential regulation administered by the...

Designating Mexican Drug Cartels as Foreign Terrorists: Policy Implications

In a November 26 interview, President Donald Trump revealed his intention to designate Mexico’s drug trafficking organizations (DTOs, commonly referred to as “cartels”) as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs). His comments follow recent incidents that exemplify how Mexican DTOs use violence to control their criminal domains. Earlier in November, after members of an extended family of U.S.-Mexican citizens were killed in Sonora, President Trump tweeted: “This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels....” In October, Mexican security...

Iraq: Protests, Transition, and the Future of U.S. Partnership

Mass protests and state violence against some protestors have shaken Iraq since October 2019, with at least 400 Iraqis reported dead and thousands more injured in Baghdad and several southern Iraqi cities. After security forces and unidentified gunmen killed 45 protestors on November 27 and 28, Prime Minister Adel Abd Al Mahdi publicly stated his intent to resign, which protestors and some prominent political figures had been demanding for months. Iraqi legislators in the Council of Representatives (COR) acknowledged the prime minister’s offer, but he remains in office until a replacement...

Amazon Protest of the Department of Defense's JEDI Cloud Contract Award to Microsoft

In September 2017, the Deputy Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum calling for the adoption of a Department of Defense (DOD) enterprise-wide cloud services solution. As part of its ongoing technology modernization efforts, DOD sought to acquire a commercial cloud services solution known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) Cloud.

In April 2019, DOD selected Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (henceforth Amazon) to contend for the contract award from qualified proposals submitted by IBM, Amazon, Microsoft, and Oracle. In October 2019, DOD announced it had awarded the...

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 more than 5 million policies providing more than $1.3 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...

The Schedule I Status of Marijuana

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) places various substances in one of five schedules based on their medical use, potential for abuse, and safety or risk for dependence. The five schedules are progressively ordered, with substances regarded as the least dangerous and addictive classified as Schedule V and those considered the most dangerous and addictive classified as Schedule I. By law, Schedule I substances have a “high potential for abuse” with “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” and cannot safely be dispensed under a prescription. The CSA prohibits...

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership: Status and Recent Developments

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a prospective trade agreement between the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and five of their major FTA partners—Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea. On November 4, 2019, a Joint Leaders Statement was issued following the conclusion of the 3rd RCEP Summit, held on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Thailand. According to the statement, 15 of the original 16 Asian countries participating in RCEP have concluded “text-based negotiations for all 20 chapters” and “essentially all”...

Homeland Security Research and Development: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

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Overview

In the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Directorate of Science and Technology (S&T) has primary responsibility for establishing, administering, and coordinating research and development (R&D) activities. The Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office (CWMDO) is responsible for R&D relating to detection of nuclear and radiological threats. Several other DHS components, such as the Coast Guard, also fund R&D and R&D-related activities associated with their missions. The Common Appropriations Structure that DHS introduced in its FY2017 budget includes an account...

Liquefied Natural Gas by Rail: Policy Issues

On October 24, 2019, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), published a proposed rule to authorize the transportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in rail tank cars. This publication was the latest federal action intended to provide “greater flexibility in the modes of transportation” of LNG to serve domestic and export markets. The proposed rule could conflict with legislation approved by the House of Representatives earlier this year.

Natural gas cooled below -260° F at normal atmospheric...

Big Data in Financial Services: Privacy and Security Regulation

Congress has shown interest in data privacy and security issues in the financial services industry, including an upcoming House Financial Services task force hearing. Recent data breaches at large financial institutions and credit reporting agencies have increased concern about the privacy and security of the large amounts of consumer financial information (known increasingly as big data) that companies gather, use, and store. Some of this information is public, whereas other information is considered personal and nonpublic. No single law provides a framework for regulating data privacy in...

Poland Designated into Visa Waiver Program

On November 6, 2019, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan announced the designation of Poland into the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows citizens of designated countries to visit the United States without obtaining visas. Poland—one of five EU countries that until now had not been designated into the VWP—had been working with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for over a decade to meet the program’s criteria (see list of criteria below). In FY2019, Poland met the requirement of having a nonimmigrant visa refusal rate below 3%. On October 4, 2019,...

FY2020 Refugee Ceiling and Allocations

On November 1, 2019, President Donald Trump issued a Presidential Determination setting the FY2020 refugee ceiling at 18,000. The refugee ceiling is the maximum number of refugees that can be admitted to the United States in a fiscal year. From the start of FY2020 until the signing of the Presidential Determination, no refugees could be admitted to the United States.

The FY2020 refugee ceiling of 18,000 is the lowest in the history of the U.S. refugee admissions program. The Trump Administration has reduced the refugee ceiling each year, setting it at 45,000 for FY2018 and 30,000 for...

Harbor Dredging: Issues and Historical Funding

Congress is debating whether to support increased funding for dredging to better maintain harbor channel depths and widths. A bill passed by the House (H.R. 2440) seeks to boost dredging activity by utilizing more of the collections from a port tax levied to fund harbor maintenance. However, it is not clear whether the additional funding would increase the volume of material dredged from U.S. harbors, as a variety of factors affect the cost and performance of harbor dredging. In contrast to the House bill, in S. 2470 the Senate Committee on Appropriations recommends a Gulf Coast...

Canada’s October 2019 Elections

On October 21, 2019, Canadians went to the polls to elect 338 Members of Parliament. Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party secured the most seats in the House of Commons, they lost the majority they had won in 2015. Trudeau’s new minority government will have to seek support from other parties to pass its agenda. This altered balance of power could have implications for U.S.-Canadian relations, including commercial, defense, and energy ties.

2019 Campaign

Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberals won power in 2015 on a platform pledging to improve economic security for...

$7.569 Billion Highway Rescission Approaches

Current funding for the Federal-Aid Highway Program is authorized through September 30, 2020, by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act; P.L. 114-94). However, Section 1438 of the act directs that on July 1, 2020, $7.569 billion of the unobligated balances of highway formula funds apportioned to the states under the law be permanently rescinded.

Rescissions are provisions in law that cancel the availability of previously enacted budget authority before the budget authority would otherwise expire.

Why the Rescission Was Included in the FAST Act

The Highway Trust Fund...

Charitable Conservation Contributions: Potential for Abuse?

Taxpayers may be able to claim a charitable deduction for the value of qualified conservation contributions, which include conservation easements. In recent years, deductions for conservation contributions have increased. There are concerns that some of this increase has been driven by syndicated conservation easements, where a pass-through business entity acquires real property on behalf of investors, makes a conservation contribution to a qualified organization, and then allocates the tax benefits among the investors. Conservation contributions made through syndicated conservation...

2019 California Wildfires: Brief Overview of FEMA Programs and Resources

Introduction

This Insight provides a brief overview of current Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) declarations and federal assistance programs that may be available.

The National Weather Service (NWS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides fire weather outlooks intended to delineate areas of the continental United States where “pre-existing fuel conditions, combined with forecast weather conditions during the next eight days, will result in a significant threat for the ignitions and/or spread of wildfires.” These conditions involve combinations of...

Argentina’s 2019 Elections

Argentina’s Peronist party (officially known as the Partido Justicialista) returned to power in October 27, 2019, presidential elections. Alberto Fernández of the center-left Peronist Frente de Todos (Front for All) coalition defeated current President Mauricio Macri of the center-right Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change) coalition by a vote of 48.1% to 40.4% in a six-candidate race. Argentina’s economic crisis—marked by recession, high inflation, and increasing poverty—appeared to be the most important factor in the race. Although Macri’s defeat was not unexpected, most polls had...

California Wildfires and Bulk Electric System Reliability

Introduction

Many regions of the United States are susceptible to wildfires during droughts, with lightning being a frequent cause. California has been particularly affected in recent years. Since 2000, California has experienced 15 of the 20 most destructive wildfires in the state’s history. However, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, electric utilities in California were responsible for several of these wildfires. In 2007, San Diego Gas and Electric was blamed for several wildfires in San Diego County, and in 2017, Southern California Edison was...

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Assistance

Introduction

The majority of funding in the United States for both pre- and post-disaster mitigation comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which defines mitigation as “any sustained action to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property from natural hazards and their effects.” Mitigation actions have a long-term impact, as opposed to actions that are associated with immediate preparedness, response, and recovery activities. Mitigation has been shown to save money. A recent study by the Multihazard Mitigation Council found that society saves $6 for every...

Turkey Sanctions in Pending Legislation: Issues for Congress

Congress is actively considering a variety of bills that could impose sanctions on Turkey. The pending legislation is largely in response to a Turkish-led incursion into Syria (which Turkey calls Operation Peace Spring, or OPS) that began in early October after the Trump Administration announced that the United States was relocating some U.S. Special Forces away from the Syria-Turkey border area. Sanctions imposed via legislation would add to sanctions that the Administration imposed on Turkey in response to OPS, and many would stand until Turkey withdraws from areas it has already...

U.S. Women’s Soccer Team and Equal Pay

U.S. Women’s National Team’s (USWNT) efforts to obtain pay equal to the pay provided to the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) by the U.S. Soccer Federation rose to prominence during the team’s successful quest for the Women’s World Cup 2019, the team’s fourth such title since 1991. The members of the USWNT and USMNT share the same employer, U.S. Soccer, with whom each team has a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The USWNT efforts have led to discussions over whether U.S. Soccer has complied with key anti-discrimination laws regarding pay equity.

Recent Developments

On March 30, 2016,...

Libra: A Facebook-led Cryptocurrency Initiative

On June 18, 2019, Facebook announced that, with 28 other members, it had founded the Libra Association, which planned to launch a new cryptocurrency, called Libra. The association released a white paper that outlined the characteristics of Libra and described its goal of creating a cryptocurrency that would overcome some of the challenges faced by other cryptocurrencies and deliver the possible benefits of the technology on a large scale.

President Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin raised concerns about the Libra project, as did several Members of Congress during Senate Banking...

DNS over HTTPS—What Is It and Why Do People Care?

Internet pioneer David Clark said: “It’s not that we didn’t think about security. We knew that there were untrustworthy people out there, and we thought we could exclude them.” Those who created the internet were focused on enabling the utility of the network, and a repercussion of their design decisions is that internet security is not inherent but must be retrofitted. Efforts to change one of the internet’s hardwired insecurities—the Domain Name System (DNS)—are ongoing but will be disruptive.

How We Get to Websites Today

When someone wants to visit a website, they type the web address...

Public Transit Ridership Continues to Decline

Despite suggestions that ridership on the nation’s public transportation systems is beginning to grow again, available evidence suggests this optimism is premature. According to data from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), 2018 marked the fourth straight year of declining ridership, falling by about 2.5% from the year before. Total ridership on transit buses and rail systems, including commuter rail services, and ferries in 2018 was below 10 billion for the first time since 2005. More recent quarterly data from APTA show that second-quarter ridership in 2019 was higher...

Kosovo’s Election: Early Results May Signal Major Changes

On October 6, 2019, Kosovo held its fourth parliamentary election since declaring independence from Serbia in 2008 (Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s independence). Opposition parties’ strong performance may result in the most consequential government turnover since independence, with implications for the future direction of the European Union (EU)-facilitated dialogue to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia. The United States has long supported Kosovo’s political and economic development, and U.S. officials and many Members of Congress support and have closely followed the...

Reissued Labor Department Rule Tests Congressional Review Act Ban on Promulgating “Substantially the Same” Rules

On October 4, 2019, the Department of Labor (DOL) published a final rule in the Federal Register on the states’ ability to drug test certain unemployment compensation (UC) applicants. The UC drug testing rule is a reissued version of an Obama Administration rule that was disapproved in the 115th Congress under the Congressional Review Act (CRA; P.L. 115-17). DOL had previously published a proposed version of the rule on November 5, 2018. The rule is set to take effect on November 4, 2019.

Notably, this is the first time an agency has reissued a rule after the original version was...

Turkish Incursion into Syria: U.S. Policy Implications

On October 9, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of “Operation Peace Spring,” which he stated would target both Kurdish and Islamic State (IS, aka ISIL/ISIS) fighters in northern Syria. Turkey then launched an air and ground assault against Kurdish forces. Turkey’s foreign minister has stated that Turkish forces plan to go 18 miles into Syrian territory, and eventually to occupy a corridor along the border. The commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had stated that the SDF would resist, and fighting has escalated.

The launch of the operation...

CFPB Proposes New Debt Collection Regulation

On May 21, 2019, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (CFPB) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to implement the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA; 15 U.S.C. §1692). Congress passed the FDCPA in 1977 to “eliminate abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors.” The CFPB’s proposal would clarify how certain debt collectors may communicate with consumers and what information they must disclose.

This Insight begins with an overview of the debt collection market and its regulation. It then analyzes major parts of the CFPB’s proposed rule and reactions to the proposal...

CFPB Proposes New Payday Lending Rule, Reversing Recently Finalized Regulation

On February 6, 2019, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (CFPB) released a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans. The proposal would rescind a significant part of a 2017 final rule that requires small-dollar, short-term lenders to determine a consumer’s ability to repay before issuing a new loan. This new, controversial proposal has received congressional support and opposition.

This Insight begins with an overview of payday loans and then briefly summarizes the 2017 final rule and major changes proposed by the CFPB...

The Open Skies Treaty: Background and Issues

The United States, Canada, and 22 European nations signed the Treaty on Open Skies on March 24, 1992. It 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, and encourage cooperation among European nations.

The parties to the Open Skies Treaty have conducted 1,500 flights through early October 2019. Some parties provide their own aircraft, but the parties can also join on...

Federal Reserve: Recent Repo Market Intervention

This Insight examines the Federal Reserve’s (Fed’s) recent intervention in the repo (repurchase agreement) market in response to a sudden and brief spike in repo rates to almost 10% (see Figure 1). Figure 1. Repo Rates 2018-2019 / Source: St. Louis Fed, FRED. Note: As measured by the Secured Overnight Financing Rate. After a short blip, the Fed stabilized financial conditions by offering up to $250 billion in repo markets. This was the first time it has lent in repo markets—although it has regularly borrowed in repo markets—since the financial crisis (see Figure 2). Background In a repo,...

Executive Privilege and Individuals outside the Executive Branch

White House assertions of executive privilege for presidential communications have historically been confined to individuals who were executive branch employees when those communications occurred. While the idea that executive privilege could extend to individuals outside the executive branch predates the Trump Administration, it appears that recent testimony by Kris Kobach, former Kansas Secretary of State, and Corey Lewandowski, former manager of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, are likely the first times the executive branch has actually made such an assertion to Congress.

Use...

Attacks Against Saudi Arabia: Ramifications for Natural Gas

The attacks against Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure on Saturday, September 14, 2019, poses consequences for natural gas in the region and globally. Qatar, which borders Saudi Arabia and is one of the top two liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporters along with Australia, exported about 25% of the world’s LNG in 2018. All of Qatar’s exports must transit the Strait of Hormuz (see Figure 1), which is a well-known transit chokepoint. Additionally, LNG exports from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which were less than 2% of global exports, also transit the Strait of Hormuz; Oman’s LNG exports, 3%...

EPA Repeals the Clean Power Plan and Finalizes Affordable Clean Energy Rule

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized its repeal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) and promulgated new emissions guidelines in the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule. EPA based these actions on its conclusion that the CPP exceeded Clean Air Act (CAA) authority by using measures that applied to the power sector as a whole rather than measures carried out within an individual facility. Among other things, the final ACE rule establishes efficiency improvements as the “best system of emission reduction” (BSER) for existing coal-fired power plant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions....

H.R. 2486, the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education Act (the “FUTURE Act”)

On September 17, 2019, under suspension of the rules, the House passed H.R. 2486, the FUTURE Act. H.R. 2486 was subsequently placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. If enacted, H.R. 2486 would amend Title III-F of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA; P.L. 89-329, as amended) to sustain mandatory appropriations for certain programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions (hereinafter, collectively referred to as MSIs) that would otherwise expire at the end of FY2019. To offset MSI funding, H.R. 2486 would eliminate the...

Bahamas: Response to Hurricane Dorian

On September 1-2, 2019, Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm with winds of 180 miles per hour and storm surges of up to 23 feet, caused widespread damage to the islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco in the northwestern Bahamas, a country of some 700 islands off the southeast coast of the United States (see Figure 1). The official death toll is 53 as of September 25 (with the majority on Abaco) but is expected to rise. The number of missing is estimated at around 600 (down from an original estimate of 2,500), according to the Bahamian government’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA)....

Attacks on Saudi Oil Facilities: Effects and Responses

September 14, 2019, saw an attack on Saudi Aramco’s, Saudi Arabia’s national oil company, Abqaiq oil processing facility and Khurais oil field and processing plant. The attack, which used both missiles and drones, temporarily disrupted 5.7 million barrels per day (mb/d) of oil production, over half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production and about 5% of global supply. For context, U.S. crude oil production is approximately 12 mb/d.

Abqaiq Facility

Abqaiq is a key processing facility for Saudi Arabia crude. Two important functions provided by Abqaiq include (1) crude oil stabilization, a process...

Attacks Against Saudi Oil Rattle Markets

September 14, 2019, saw a successful attack against major oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia (the largest oil exporter), which temporarily disrupted 5.7 million barrels of daily production (mb/d), over half of Saudi oil production and about 5% of global supply. For context, U.S. crude oil production is approximately 12 mb/d. Global oil markets have responded with an initial price increase and subsequent pullback. The magnitude and duration of the price rise will depend on many factors, such as repair time, additional supplies, the potential confirmation of the perpetrator, and any related...

Health Benefits for Retired United Mine Workers of America Members

Eligible United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) members receive post-retirement health and pension benefits from one of three multiemployer health benefit plans and one multiemployer pension plan. A multiemployer plan is sponsored by employers in the same industry and is maintained as part of a collective bargaining agreement. The three UMWA health plans are the (1) Combined Benefit Fund (CBF), (2) UMWA 1992 Health Benefit Plan (1992 Plan), and (3) UMWA 1993 Health Benefit Plan (1993 Plan). The UMWA 1974 Pension Plan pays pension benefits.

Funding for the UMWA Retiree Health Plans

The...

Availability of Unemployment Benefits for Affected Federal Employees During a Government Shutdown

During the last decade (FY2014, FY2018, and FY2019), there have been several periods when appropriations for significant portions of federal agencies and programs lapsed without immediate new budgetary authority. As a result, some federal employees were temporarily furloughed. These “shutdown furloughs” happen when a federal government agency or program lacks budget authority and experiences a “funding gap” under the Antideficiency Act (31 U.S.C. §§1341 et seq.). In general, a funding gap requires that these agencies and programs cease operations, except in certain circumstances when...

The CCC Anomaly in an FY2020 Continuing Resolution

In late August 2019, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requested a special provision for the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) among its list of appropriations issues for Congress to consider under a continuing resolution (CR). In addition to the general provisions that extend the previous year’s appropriation for a specific term, CRs often include provisions that are specific to certain agencies, accounts, or programs. These “anomalies” are departures from a CR that modify the timing, amount, or purpose for which any referenced funding is extended. OMB cites the need for...

Immigration Relief Options for Bahamians After Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian made landfall as a Category 5 storm over the northern Bahamas on September 1, 2019, causing extensive damage to Abaco and Grand Bahama Islands, with a combined population of almost 70,000 people (the entire country has an estimated population of almost 390,000). The U.S. government, along with international humanitarian entities, is coordinating with the Government of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas in the relief effort. As of September 12, the United States had contributed almost $10.2 million in humanitarian assistance to the Bahamas in response to the hurricane.

As a...

Hong Kong Chief Executive Lam to Withdraw Extradition Bill; Protests Continue

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced on September 4, 2019, that she will formally withdraw the controversial extradition bill that touched off three months of large-scale protests across the city. While acknowledging Lam’s concession, various groups that support the ongoing protests have stated they intend to continue to organize demonstrations until Lam and the Hong Kong government comply with the protesters’ “five demands” in full (see text box). On September 8, 2019, tens of thousands of people gathered outside the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong urging...

Suicide Rates and Risk Factors for the National Guard

In the past decade, federal and state governments have made a sustained effort to improve suicide prevention and response for the Armed Forces through funding, oversight, and legislation to enhance mental health and resiliency programs. The Department of Defense’s Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO) has reported that overall military suicide rates for the Active and Reserve Components are generally comparable with those of the general U.S. population when adjusting for demographics (i.e., the military is younger and has a greater percentage of men than the general U.S. population). However,...

Hurricane Dorian: FEMA and Additional Storm-Related Resources

Introduction

On September 6, Hurricane Dorian made landfall as a category 1 storm at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. This Insight provides a brief overview of emergency and major declarations and federal assistance programs potentially available to those affected by Hurricane Dorian. It also lists resources for forecast information, hurricane and flooding information, and selected CRS reports on federal emergency management policy.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued watches and warnings for Hurricane Dorian, a storm slightly northeast of Cape Hatteras,...

New U.S. Sanctions on Venezuela

In August 2019, the Trump Administration expanded Venezuela-related sanctions by blocking all assets and interests of the Nicolás Maduro government in the United States. It also authorized sanctions against those who materially support the Maduro government or others already designated for sanctions, with exemptions for humanitarian aid.

Since recognizing Juan Guaidó, head of the National Assembly, as interim president of Venezuela in January 2019, the Administration has increased sanctions on the Maduro government in an effort to compel Maduro to leave office so a Guaidó-led transition...

Greenland, Denmark, and U.S. Relations

In August 2019, President Trump expressed interest in purchasing Greenland—a self-governing part of the Kingdom of Denmark—due to the island’s strategic location in the Arctic and its increasingly accessible natural resources. After Greenlandic and Danish officials asserted that Greenland is “open for business, not for sale,” President Trump canceled a previously scheduled state visit to Denmark in early September and subsequently objected to Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s description of his proposal as “absurd.” The incident sparked tensions with Denmark—a close U.S. ally in...

Administration of the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) Funding Authorized Under the FY2019 Border Supplemental

This Insight provides a brief overview of the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP), and funding provided for it through the FY2019 Border Supplemental.

General EFSP Administration

The EFSP provides grants to private nonprofit organizations and local governments to supplement and expand ongoing efforts and local programs to provide shelter, food, and supportive services for individuals and families who are homeless or experiencing economic emergencies. It was first authorized under the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 (P.L. 100-77), later renamed the McKinney-Vento...

Payroll Tax Cuts as Economic Stimulus: Past Experience and Economic Considerations

A range of fiscal and monetary policy tools have been used in the past to respond to weak economic conditions and recessions. One of those policy tools, enacted as economic stimulus in December 2010, was a temporary employee payroll tax cut. On August 20, 2019, President Trump expressed interest in proposing a payroll tax cut, although subsequent reports indicate this may not be a policy the Administration intends to actively pursue at this time.

2011-2012 Payroll Tax Cut

Payroll taxes are collected to finance certain entitlement programs, including Social Security, parts of Medicare, and...

Norwegian Air International and Low-Cost Long-Haul Flights

Legislation introduced in the House of Representatives in July 2019 would prohibit the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) from allowing a foreign airline to serve the United States if it “is established in a country other than the home country of its majority owner or owners in order to avoid regulations of the home country.” The bill, H.R. 3632, is the latest salvo in a prolonged battle over issuance of a foreign air carrier permit that allows Norwegian Air Shuttle, which owns a group of discount carriers, to operate transatlantic flights to U.S. destinations.

Norwegian Air Shuttle...

Global Trade Imbalances: Overview and Issues

On July 17, 2019, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published its annual report on global trade that identifies countries with “excessive” current account balances—both surpluses and deficits—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. By definition, surpluses or deficits in one country are offset by deficits or surpluses in other countries such that the global current account balance nets to zero (including statistical discrepancy), as...

The Yield Curve and Predicting Recessions

Economists and financial markets closely monitor interest rates in hopes of gleaning information about the path of the economy. One measure of particular interest is the “yield curve.” Recently, the yield curve associated with U.S. Treasuries has been inverted. This Insight discusses possible explanations for the inversion, including whether the inversion is signaling that the economy will enter a recession.

What Is the Yield Curve?

A yield curve plots the interest rates on various short-, medium-, and long-term bonds by the same issuer. Normally, short-term interest rates are lower than...

Libya: Conflict Disrupts U.S.-Backed Transition Plan

On April 4, 2019, Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) coalition that has controlled eastern Libya with foreign military and financial support since 2014, ordered forces loyal to him to begin a unilateral military operation to secure the capital, Tripoli. Tripoli is the seat of the Government of National Accord (GNA), an interim body recognized by the United States and United Nations (U.N.) Security Council as Libya’s legitimate governing entity. In response to the pro-LNA offensive, pro-GNA and other anti-Haftar elements in western Libya have mobilized. Fighting...

A New Director for the International Monetary Fund

On July 16, Christine Lagarde announced that she was resigning as International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director following her nomination to succeed Mario Draghi as president of the European Central Bank. She is expected to take up the new post in November. Until a new permanent director is chosen, David Lipton, the IMF’s First Deputy Managing Director, will serve as Acting Managing Director.

Ms. Lagarde’s tenure at the IMF coincided with arguably the most challenging global economic landscape in recent decades. Assuming office in the middle of the global financial crisis and amidst...

The Administration’s Designation of China as a Currency Manipulator

On August 4, China’s central bank allowed its currency, the yuan, to depreciate to an 11-year low, breaking the politically sensitive threshold of seven yuan to one U.S. dollar (Figure 1). A depreciation of the yuan against the U.S. dollar makes Chinese exports less expensive in global markets. Some analysts speculate the depreciation is designed to offset and retaliate against U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, coming four days after President Trump announced his intent to impose an additional 10% tariff on $300 billion of Chinese imports on September 1. There are differing views on the...

Real Time Payments Initiatives

Technological advances have made it feasible to create a real time payments (RTP) network between financial institutions in which the recipient of an electronic payment would receive funds in seconds, compared to the current practice of later in the day or the next day. The Federal Reserve’s (Fed’s) recent announcement that it would create a RTP system has been controversial, as it will be directly competing with a privately owned system.

Background

This Insight discusses payment and settlement systems that allow individuals and businesses to complete payments across different financial...

North Korea: What 18 Months of Diplomacy Has and Has Not Achieved

Overview

Since President Trump agreed in March 2018 to hold a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to discuss North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, the Trump Administration’s strategy has appeared to be based on the presumption that developing a leader-to-leader relationship will produce more results than the working-group approaches taken by previous administrations. Trump and Kim have held three meetings: in Singapore (June 2018); Hanoi (February 2019); and Panmunjom (June 2019). Since March 2018, Kim also has met on five occasions with Chinese President Xi Jinping, three...

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019: Changes to the BCA and Debt Limit

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 (BBA 2019; P.L. 116-37) was enacted on August 2, 2019. BBA 2019 raised the discretionary spending limits (caps) implemented by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA; P.L. 112-25) for FY2020 and FY2021; made other BCA-related changes, including an extension of the mandatory sequester through FY2029; and suspended the statutory debt limit until August 1, 2021.

Changes to FY2020 and FY2021 Discretionary Spending Caps

The BCA created annual statutory discretionary spending caps for defense and nondefense spending that are in effect through FY2021. If...

Behavioral Economics, IRS Letter Campaigns, and Tax Compliance

Research from the fields of behavioral economics and behavioral science suggests there may be cost-effective ways for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to increase tax compliance and collections. This Insight discusses one relatively simple approach to potentially increase compliance: carefully crafted letters to taxpayers. The discussion below is also intended to introduce the reader to a small portion of the vocabulary used by behavioral economists.

Classical and Behavioral Theories

According to the most recent estimates, the IRS collects about 84% of the taxes it should be collecting....

Why Is the Federal Reserve Reducing Interest Rates?

On July 31, the Federal Reserve (Fed) reduced the federal funds rate by a quarter of a percentage point. The Fed targets this rate to meet its statutory mandate of maximum employment and stable prices (defined as 2% inflation). Lower interest rates would tend to raise employment and inflation, all else equal.

Fed Rate Cuts Across the Business Cycle

The Fed typically cuts rates during recessions and raises rates during expansions. Since the Fed began using the federal funds rate as its primary instrument to carry out monetary policy (possibly as early as 1982), it has had four periods of...

New UK Leadership: Implications for Brexit

On July 24, 2019, Boris Johnson became prime minister of the United Kingdom (UK) after winning the Conservative Party leadership contest that was triggered by the resignation of Theresa May as party leader on June 7. A colorful and polarizing figure who was one of the leading voices in the campaign for the UK to leave the European Union (EU), Johnson previously served as UK foreign secretary from 2016 to 2018 and mayor of London from 2008 to 2016. He inherits a government in which the Conservative Party controls a slim parliamentary majority by virtue of support from the Democratic...

Carbon Monoxide Detection Requirements for Military Housing

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that can cause sudden illness or death if a person is exposed to certain quantities. Often referred to as the “silent killer,” CO poisoning kills over 430 people annually in the United States (U.S.), and approximately 50,000 people seek emergency medical treatment. Most states have enacted statutes or adopted regulations that require CO detectors or alarms in private dwellings. In these states, owners are required to install at least one battery-operated or hard wired CO detector or alarm in a housing unit.

Likewise, the...

HUD’s Proposal to End Assistance to Mixed Status Families

On May 10, 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a proposed rule to end eligibility for “mixed status” families in its major rental assistance programs (public housing, Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 8 project-based rental assistance). “Mixed status” families comprise both citizens (or eligible noncitizens) and ineligible noncitizens. As reported in the press and reflected in analysis by both CRS and HUD, the rule would likely result in the displacement from HUD-assisted housing of over 25,000 families, including 55,000 children. Additionally, the...

BB&T and SunTrust: Merger Approval Process and Trends

BB&T and SunTrust have proposed a merger that could form the eighth-largest bank holding company (BHC) by assets in the United States (see CRS Insight IN11062, BB&T and SunTrust: The Latest Proposed Merger in a Long-Term Trend of Banking Industry Consolidation). This has focused congressional attention on bank mergers. This Insight examines the bank merger regulatory approval process.

Merger Approval Process

BB&T and Suntrust are both BHCs with state-chartered subsidiary banks. The Suntrust bank is not a member of the Federal Reserve System. As such, the merger must be approved by the...

BB&T and SunTrust: The Latest Proposed Merger in a Long-Term Trend of Banking Industry Consolidation

On February 9, 2019, BB&T and SunTrust—the 16th- and 17th-largest U.S. bank holding companies (BHCs) by asset size, respectively—announced they intend to merge, which would create the 8th-largest BHC. The House Financial Services Committee has scheduled a hearing on July 24, 2019, that will examine this merger.

Over the past 35 years, banks are becoming fewer, and industry assets are increasingly concentrated in large banks. Observers have warned that this trend could leave certain markets traditionally served by small banks underserved or unserved. In addition, large, complex banks—or too...

Section 232 Investigation: Uranium Imports

On July, 12, 2019, President Trump declined to impose quotas or other trade measures on imports of uranium materials under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 (19 U.S.C. §1862). The President did not concur with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s (Commerce’s) findings that “uranium imports threaten to impair the national security of the United States as defined under section 232.” As part of his decision, the President established a Nuclear Fuel Working Group to “examine the current state of domestic nuclear fuel production to reinvigorate the entire nuclear fuel supply chain,”...

Tropical Storm Barry: FEMA and Additional Storm-Related Resources

Introduction

This Insight provides a brief overview of emergency and major declarations and federal assistance programs potentially available to those affected by Tropical Storm Barry. It also lists resources for forecast information, hurricane and flooding information, and selected Congressional Research Service reports on federal emergency management policy.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued watches and warnings for Tropical Storm Barry, a slow-moving storm in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Current forecasts predict the storm’s landfall to occur along...

Exposed Data Highlights Law Enforcement Use of Selected Technologies

Official use of image capturing and facial recognition technology—particularly by law enforcement—has been the subject of recent congressional attention. Specifically, there is interest in facial recognition’s accuracy, the databases against which faces are compared, which individual data are subject to collection and retention, how agencies ensure data security, and public notification regarding the use of facial recognition and other image capturing technology. Many of these issues were highlighted following a recently acknowledged breach of certain data held by a U.S. Customs and Border...

Executive Order to Reduce the Number of Federal Advisory Committees

On June 14, 2019, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order (E.O.) 13875, “Evaluating and Improving the Utility of Federal Advisory Committees.” The E.O. intends to evaluate, reduce, and limit the number of federal advisory committees (FACs) subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA; 5 U.S.C. Appendix—Federal Advisory Committee Act; as amended), including statutory committees established by Congress. E.O. 13875 is similar to a previous E.O. issued by President William Clinton. Questions remain, however, about whether President Clinton’s E.O. was effective in reducing the...

Cuba: Trump Administration Expands Sanctions

Since April 2019, the Trump Administration has imposed a series of increasingly strong economic sanctions against Cuba, effectively ending the previous policy of engagement begun by the Obama Administration in 2014 that had eased some sanctions and moved toward the normalization of relations. As a result, U.S. policy toward Cuba again is centered on economic pressure aimed at influencing the Cuban government’s behavior with regard to not only Cuba’s human rights record but also its support to the Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro. Congress traditionally has played an important role in...

Year-Round Sale of E15

Within Congress, interest and concern continues in the year-round sale of E15—a fuel blend of 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline. Until this year E15 generally could not be sold during summer months because it did not meet the Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) requirements, which limit fuel volatility under the Clean Air Act (CAA), for the summer ozone season (June 1-September 15). On May 30th, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated a final rule allowing year-round E15 sales. A potential issue for Congress is if EPA should have the authority to interpret the CAA as it did to make...

Moldova’s Political Crisis Abates

On June 14, 2019, a political crisis in Moldova ended when leaders of the formerly ruling Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) agreed to dissolve the outgoing government in favor of a new coalition. The coalition includes a reform-oriented, Western-leaning alliance, ACUM (or “Now”), and the socially conservative, Russian-leaning Party of Socialists, which placed first in Moldova’s February 2019 elections.

Moldova is one of three post-Soviet states that, together with Ukraine and Georgia, have sought greater integration with the West while coping with separatist territories occupied by...

U.S. Trade Friction with China Intensifies

Commercial relations between the United States and China are experiencing an increasing level of tension and uncertainty. In August 2017, the Trump Administration launched a Section 301 investigation of Chinese policies relating to technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation policies deemed harmful to U.S. economic interests. In March 2018, the Administration announced it would take specified action against China in response to such policies, including increased tariffs. The Administration subsequently raised tariffs on three tranches of import products from China, (with...

New Limitations on Federal Research Using Human Fetal Tissue

On June 5, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced—following an audit and review of all HHS research involving the use of human fetal tissue from elective abortions—that the Administration has decided to discontinue intramural research (i.e., internal) projects involving fetal tissue from elective abortions at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and will add additional ethics review for new extramural research (i.e., external) involving such tissue. In general, about 10% of NIH funding goes to intramural researchers at NIH-operated facilities and over 80% of NIH...

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for Childless Workers

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable tax credit available to eligible workers. Because the credit is refundable, a worker need not owe federal income taxes to benefit from it. The EITC is the nation’s largest cash anti-poverty program, with a tax year 2016 (returns filed in 2017) total of $66.7 billion claimed on 27.4 million tax returns. Most of the claimed EITC dollars—$64.7 billion, or 97% of total EITC dollars—were for taxpayers with children compared to $2.1 billion in claimed EITC for taxpayers with no qualifying children.

EITC Rules for Childless Workers Compared...

FY2020 Agriculture Appropriations: H.R. 3164

The Agriculture appropriations bill funds the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) except for the Forest Service. It also funds the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and in even-numbered fiscal years the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). (In the House, but not the Senate, appropriations jurisdiction for CFTC rests with the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.)

Agriculture appropriations include both mandatory and discretionary spending. Discretionary amounts, though, are the primary focus during the bill’s development. The largest discretionary spending items are the...

Kazakhstan’s Snap Presidential Election Met with Protests

Overview

Kazakhstan, an important U.S. partner in areas such as nuclear nonproliferation and counterterrorism, has embarked on an unprecedented process of political transition. On March 19, 2019, Nursultan Nazarbayev announced his resignation as president after almost 30 years in office. A former Soviet official, Nazarbayev became Kazakhstan’s first elected president in 1991. He was subsequently reelected four times, most recently in 2015, although none of these elections were deemed free and fair by international observers. His authoritarian government faced criticism for human rights...

Keystone XL Pipeline: The Saga Continues

On March 29, 2019, President Trump issued a new Presidential Permit for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, superseding the prior Presidential Permit issued by the U.S. State Department in 2017. By issuing the new permit personally, rather than delegating his permit authority as before, the President pursued a new approach to advance the pipeline project in the face of ongoing legal challenges. The pipeline’s developer, TC Energy (previously named TransCanada), has not yet made major capital commitments to the project as it evaluates changing oil market conditions and seeks “a clear path to...

Landslide Hazards Legislation in the 116th Congress

Authorizing a Landslide Hazards Program

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that landslides kill an average of 25-50 people each year in the United States and account for $1 billion to $2 billion annually in damages. Two nearly identical bills, S. 529 and H.R. 1261, titled the National Landslide Preparedness Act, would authorize a national landslide hazards reduction program within USGS. USGS currently operates, under its Organic Act of 1879 and other authorities, such as the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-288), a Landslide Hazards Program (funding level of $3.5 million in...

President Trump’s Possible Tariffs on Mexican Goods: Potential Economic Effects

On May 30, 2019, President Trump issued a statement that he would be invoking authorities granted to him by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) “to address the emergency” involving illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border by imposing tariffs on all goods from Mexico beginning on June 10, 2019. The President stated that the tariffs would be removed as soon as “the illegal migration crisis is alleviated” through Mexican action. Mexican officials and numerous Members of Congress are reportedly meeting with the Trump Administration to resolve the issue. Mexico’s...

The 2019 European Parliament Elections

Between May 23 and 26, 2019, the 28 member states of the European Union (EU) held elections for the 751 members of the next European Parliament (EP). The only directly elected EU institution, the EP represents the bloc’s roughly 513 million citizens. The EP has accumulated more power over time within the EU, and through such entities as the Transatlantic Legislators’ Dialogue, Congress is likely to engage the EP, including on certain aspects of U.S.-EU relations. Some analysts suggest that gains for parties considered “euroskeptic”—that is, critical of the EU or anti-EU to varying...

What Causes a Recession?

At 120 months in June, the current economic expansion is now tied with the longest in U.S. history. As can be seen in Figure 1, previous expansions vary greatly in length but have recently been longer. Dating back to the 1850s, only five have lasted over five years, including the last three.

This expansion, like all previous ones, will eventually end and be followed by a recession. Few economists are forecasting a recession in 2019, 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...

Measles Outbreaks, Vaccine Hesitancy, and Federal Policy Options

As of May 31, 2019, 981 cases of measles across 26 U.S. states have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—the highest annual number of measles cases since 1992 (with no deaths reported). Figure 1 shows annual measles cases in the past 10 years.

Measles is a highly contagious viral illness that can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis (infection of the brain), and, rarely, death. Certain groups are at greater risk for complications (e.g., children under 5 and adults over 20 years of age). No specific treatment exists, but it can be prevented with a...

New Round of Farm Trade Aid Proposed by Administration for 2019

On May 23, 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it will take several actions in 2019 to assist farmers in response to continued economic damage from trade retaliation and trade disruption in international agricultural markets. These actions are to include a new trade aid package for the U.S. farm sector valued at up to $16 billion.

Building on the 2018 Trade Aid Package

USDA implemented a similar trade aid package in 2018, also in response to trade retaliation against U.S. agricultural products. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue used authority under the...

U.S. Arms Sales to the Middle East: Trump Administration Uses Emergency Exception in the Arms Export Control Act

Overview

On May 24, 2019, the Trump Administration formally notified Congress of immediate foreign military sales and direct commercial sales of training, equipment, and weapons with a possible value of more than $8 billion, including sales of precision guided munitions (PGMs) to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the gift transfer of PGMs by the UAE to Jordan. Other notified sales include, among others: F-15 Engines and Support for Saudi Arabia and AH-64 equipment, Javelin Anti-Tank Missiles, and Patriot Guidance Enhanced Missiles for the UAE.

In making the...

Disentangling the Jobs Report

The Jobs Report

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS’s) monthly Employment Situation Summary—more commonly known as the jobs report—can from time to time report seemingly contradictory figures. For example, the jobs report for April 2019 reports that the unemployment rate decreased from 3.8% to 3.6%, while the employment level fell by 103,000 people. The April jobs report also includes an alternative measure of employment in which employment rose by 263,000 individuals. How can these seemingly contradictory figures be reported side by side? The explanation lies in two quirks in the jobs...

National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Enacted in the 116th Congress

Priority Volcanoes in the United States

In 2018, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS, a bureau within the Department of the Interior) published a volcanic threat assessment that assigned five threat levels (very high, high, moderate, low, and very low) to 161 volcanoes in 14 states and U.S. territories (Figure 1). The assessment ranked 18 volcanoes as very high and 39 as high. Eleven of the 18 very-high-threat volcanoes are in Washington, Oregon, or California; five are in Alaska; and two are in Hawaii. The study notes that the high- and moderate-threat volcanoes are mostly in Alaska and that...

USMCA and Mexico’s New Labor Law

The 116th Congress faces policy issues related to labor under the proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) (see CRS Report R44981, NAFTA Renegotiation and the Proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA)). On May 1, 2019, Mexican President Andrés Manual López Obrador signed into law a labor reform bill aimed at enhancing Mexican worker rights by ensuring that workers can vote for their union representatives by secret ballot, establishing the right of workers to join the union of their choice and establishing independent labor courts to resolve disputes and register...

OMB Issues New CRA Guidance, Potentially Changing Relationship with Independent Agencies

On April 11, 2019, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum to agencies on implementation of the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The memorandum discussed the types of agency actions covered by the CRA and, for some agencies, established a new process for determining whether rules are “major” under the CRA.

The most noteworthy effects of the memorandum are its apparent changes to rulemaking procedures for statutorily designated independent regulatory agencies, sometimes also referred to as independent regulatory commissions(IRCs). Depending on how...

Unreimbursed Employee Job Expenses and the Suspension of the Miscellaneous Itemized Deduction

Before the 2018 tax year, employees who incurred certain unreimbursed job-related expenses were allowed to claim a deduction for the amount of those expenses above 2% of a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI), under Sections 62 and 67 of the federal tax code. (The deduction also applied to certain costs related to the production or collection of income, and to the management, conservation, or maintenance of property held for producing such income, but they are not addressed here.) Guidance issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for this itemized miscellaneous deduction identified...

Military Personnel and Extremism: Law, Policy, and Considerations for Congress

While concern about the confluence of Islamist extremist movements and U.S. military personnel rose following the 2009 attack by an Army officer at Fort Hood, Texas, recent events have raised concerns about the potential for violence from other domestic extremist groups. In February 2019, a Coast Guard lieutenant stationed in Washington, DC, was detained on evidence that he was stockpiling weapons and planning attacks on several high-profile individuals and organizations. Court documents indicated that this individual had sought and espoused white supremacist ideologies. Studies by the...

U.S.-Iran Tensions Escalate

Overview

U.S.-Iran tensions have escalated in recent weeks as the Trump Administration has taken several additional steps to implement its “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran’s economy and government, and Iranian leaders have announced responses. U.S. steps have included designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization, ending exceptions for Iran’s oil customers to buy Iranian oil without U.S. penalty, ending sanctions waivers for some assistance to Iran’s nuclear program, and imposing new sanctions on transactions in some Iranian commodities. Iran’s...

DOD’s Proposal to Reduce Military Medical End Strength

In accordance with 10 U.S.C. §115, Congress annually authorizes the end strength for active duty and reserve component personnel. End strength is the maximum number of personnel permitted in each military service (e.g., Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force) as of September 30, the last day of the fiscal year. For fiscal year (FY) 2019, Congress authorized a total end strength of 1,338,100 active duty personnel and 824,700 reserve component personnel, including subtotals by force. Each military service then decides how to organize, train, and equip the people who compose its authorized end...

Spain’s 2019 Election

Many U.S. officials and Members of Congress consider Spain to be an important U.S. ally and one of the closest U.S. partners in Europe. Spain’s April 2019 election returned a fragmented result, but most seated parties favor the continuation of close U.S.-Spain relations.

Socialist Party Wins, But No Majority

The center-left Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), led by incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, came in first place in Spain’s general election held on April 28, 2019. The PSOE won 123 out of the 350 seats in Spain’s Congress of Deputies (lower house of parliament), with nearly 29% of...

Administration Proposal to Reorganize the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM)

The U.S Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the federal government’s central personnel agency, is an independent establishment in the executive branch. Created by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the agency’s statutory authority is codified in 5 U.S.C. Chapter 11. In June 2018, President Donald Trump issued reorganization recommendations that included a proposal to transfer several OPM functions to the Executive Office of the President (EOP) and the General Services Administration (GSA). The President’s FY2020 budget restated the reorganization proposal, including that the entire...

Japan’s New Emperor and Era

Introduction

On April 30th, the 85-year-old Japanese Emperor, Akihito, is to abdicate after 30 years on the Chrysanthemum throne, becoming the first to do so in over 200 years. The following day his eldest son, Naruhito, is to become the 126th Emperor of Japan. Japanese imperial successions are regarded as times of societal transition and therefore an important political moment. Japan will look to mark the occasion with friends and allies, including at an enthronement ceremony in October to which foreign delegations may be invited. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe invited President...

Ukraine Elects a New President

On April 21, 2019, Ukraine held the second round of its first presidential election since 2014, the year Russia occupied Ukraine’s Crimea region and fostered a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine. Popular actor-comedian and political novice Volodymyr Zelensky won an overwhelming victory. He defeated incumbent President Petro Poroshenko 73% to 24%. Observers considered the election to be largely free and fair.

The election outcome suggests that Ukraine’s population is highly dissatisfied with politics as usual. Zelensky, 41, ran as an outsider ostensibly untainted by politics or...

Iran Oil Sanctions Exceptions Ended

Overview

On April 22, 2019, the State Department announced that exceptions granted to eight countries enabling them to buy Iranian oil without U.S. penalty would not be renewed when they expire on May 2, 2019. The announcement stated that the global oil market is sufficiently well supplied to permit the move, which “aims to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue.” The decision has raised speculation over how effective it will be in reducing Iran’s oil exports, how Iran will react, and potential effects on the global oil market—issues that might...

Community Disaster Loans: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

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The Community Disaster Loan (CDL) program was developed to help local governments manage tax and other revenue shortages following a disaster. Administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), CDLs provide financial liquidity to local governments through a structured loan that may be converted to grants when certain financial conditions are met. CDLs are codified in Section 417 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. §5184, as amended). Modified “non-traditional” CDL programs were developed in response to Hurricanes Rita and...

Sri Lanka’s 2019 Easter Bombings

The Attack

A series of Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka claimed over 350 lives and left over 500 injured. At least 38 of the dead are foreigners, including four Americans. The bombings targeted churches in the capital Colombo, as well as Negombo, and Batticaloa. The Shangri-la, Cinnamon Grand, and Kingsbury Hotels in Colombo were also targeted. A planned attack on a fourth hotel failed and reportedly helped police identify the perpetrators of the attacks. The attacks were carried out by nine Sri Lankan suicide bombers and are the worst violence to strike Sri Lanka since the 2009 end of...

Global Measles Vaccination Trends

Congress has long taken an interest in infectious disease prevention and control. Measles is a highly contagious virus that is transmitted through droplets emitted from an infected person when coughing and sneezing. The virus can live for up to two hours in the airspace or on a surface where an infected person coughed or sneezed. Other people can contract the disease if they breathe contaminated air or touch their eyes, nose, or mouth after touching a contaminated surface. Up to 90% of those in the proximity of an infected person who are not immune to the disease will be infected. Symptoms...

Brexit Extended

New Deadline Is End of October 2019

The departure of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU), known as “Brexit,” was originally scheduled for March 29, 2019. The UK House of Commons has repeatedly rejected the withdrawal agreement that the UK government negotiated with the EU, however, while also opposing the “no-deal” option of leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement.

On March 22, EU leaders agreed to extend the UK’s departure date to May 22, 2019, provided the UK could approve the agreement by April 12, 2019. As that deadline drew near, EU leaders at an emergency...

Netanyahu’s April 2019 Election Victory: Implications for Israel’s Leadership and U.S. Policy

In elections held on April 9, 2019, the Likud party of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu tied for the most Knesset (parliament) seats. Most observers assess that, in the context of Israel’s political system, Netanyahu will begin a fifth term as prime minister (1996-1999, 2009-present) after assembling a coalition government with his traditional right-leaning and ultra-Orthodox partners (see Figure 1). Netanyahu’s victory came despite a significant challenge from the new Blue and White party—led by former top general Benny Gantz and prominent politician Yair Lapid (a former finance...

International Criminal Court: U.S. Response to Examination of Atrocity Crimes in Afghanistan

On April 5, 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revoked the U.S. travel visa permitting International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to enter the United States, unless visiting U.N. headquarters in New York, citing legal authority (8 U.S.C. §1182(a)(3)(C)(i)) to restrict entry of persons “whose ... proposed activities in the United States would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences.” Secretary Pompeo explained the reason for the decision was Ms. Bensouda’s possible investigation of allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in and related...

U.S. Military Electronic Warfare Research and Development: Recent Funding Projections

The National Defense Strategy Commission identified Electronic Warfare (EW) as a critical capability to ensure the U.S. military remains competitive. In its FY2019 and FY2020 Defense Budget overview documents, the Department of Defense (DOD) identified EW as a priority to improve platform and network survivability; provide advanced jamming techniques to disrupt radars, communications, and command and control systems; and provide measures to defend the space domain and maintain power projection forces.

Even before the release of the Commission report, Congress showed an interest in EW...

“Extraordinary Measures” and the Debt Limit

Following a period of suspension, the statutory debt limit was reinstated on March 2, 2019, at $21.988 trillion, precisely accommodating the federal borrowing undertaken up to that date. Following the debt limit’s reinstatement Treasury Secretary Mnuchin began implementing “extraordinary measures” to delay a binding debt limit. Secretary Mnuchin had informed Congress of his intention to implement these measures in a February 21, 2019, letter to Congress. Extraordinary measures were last implemented from March 2017 through September 2017 and from December 2017 through February 2018, until...

The Global Economy: Is Slower Growth Ahead?

Recent economic forecasts project a mild slowing in global economic growth in 2019, centered mostly in developed economies and Asia, according the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as indicated in Table 1. The IMF April 2019 forecast of global economic growth in 2019 and 2020 projects a growth rate of 3.3% and 3.6%, respectively, down about 0.2 percentage points (pp) from previous forecasts. It also forecasts global trade growth of about 3.4%, and a fall in energy prices of about 13%. IMF April 2019 forecast for global...

FY2020 Funding for Transit Could Be Decreased Due to Highway Trust Fund Law

Unless legislative action is taken, formula funding for the federal transit program could be decreased by approximately $1 billion in FY2020, roughly 12% from the amount authorized in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (P.L. 114-94). This could lead to reductions in federal grants to local transit agencies for purchases of new buses, railcars, and other facilities, the upkeep of existing facilities, and, in the case of many smaller systems, for operating expenses. In a typical year, almost 80% of federal transit funding is distributed by formula.

The potential funding...

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Named a Terrorist Organization

Overview

On April 8, 2019, President Trump announced his intent to name Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Administration officials attributed the designation to the IRGC’s being an “active and enthusiastic participant in acts of terror,” including the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia.

The designation, which is subject to congressional review, represents the first time the United States has designated an official military organization of a foreign...

The Evolving Use of Disaster Housing Assistance and the Roles of the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) and the Individuals and Households Program (IHP)

For nearly one year following Hurricane Maria in 2017, some disaster survivors from Puerto Rico were housed in hotels/motels through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program. This was due to multiple program extensions (including by court order), although TSA was intended to provide short-term (i.e., 5-14 days, extendable for up to 6 months) accommodations. As TSA was ending, some disaster survivors still lacked longer-term housing, causing housing advocacy organizations and Members of Congress (also here and here) to call upon...

Increasing the BCA Spending Limits: Characteristics of Previously Enacted Legislation

The Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA; P.L. 112-25), enacted on August 2, 2011, generated annual statutory discretionary spending limits for defense and nondefense spending that are in effect through FY2021. If appropriations are enacted that exceed a limit for a fiscal year, across-the-board reductions (i.e., sequestration) are triggered to eliminate the excess spending within that category. The BCA further stipulates that certain discretionary spending—such as appropriations designated as emergency requirements or for overseas contingency operations—are effectively exempt from the limits....

Cybersecurity: Homeland Security Issues for the 116th Congress

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Introduction

For policymaking purposes, cybersecurity can be considered the security of cyberspace. Taking this broad view allows policymakers to examine discrete elements of cybersecurity and determine which parts to address through the legislative process. Cyberspace, itself, includes the infrastructure necessary for the internet to work (e.g., wires, modems, and servers), the services used via the Internet (e.g., web applications and websites), the devices on the network (e.g., computers and Internet-of-Things devices), and the users of those devices. Cybersecurity involves many...

Low Interest Rates, Part 1: Economic and Fiscal Implications

Since the 2007-2009 financial crisis, U.S. interest rates have been unusually low by historical standards. This Insight discusses the implications of low interest rates for households and fiscal policy. It is the first of three parts. Low Interest Rates, Part 2 discusses implications for monetary policy. Low Interest Rates, Part 3 discusses potential causes.

Low Interest Rates

When describing interest rate trends, each debt instrument is different. The interest rate on every debt instrument is determined by market supply and demand for that instrument, and each instrument has different...

India’s 2019 National Elections: A Preview

Overview

India, a populous South Asian federal republic, is about to undertake the largest democratic exercise in human history in seating a new lower house of Parliament, the 545-seat Lok Sabha. The numbers involved can inspire awe: there are 880 million eligible voters in the country’s 29 states and 7 union territories. Five phases of voting will begin on April 11; results are due May 23. The last polls in 2014 saw about 540 million voters choose from among more than 8,250 candidates representing 464 parties. Incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP or...

Firefighter Assistance Grants: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

Background

Structural firefighting—which typically refers to fighting fires in residential, commercial, and other types of buildings—is primarily the responsibility of local governments. During the 1990s, shortfalls in state and local budgets, coupled with increased responsibilities of local fire departments, led many in the fire service community to call for additional financial support from the federal government.

In response, Congress established firefighter assistance grant programs within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide additional support for local fire...

Defining Domestic Violence

In 2018, the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) changed the expansive domestic violence (DV) definition that appeared on its website to the more narrow statutory definition used for grant programs. There is some confusion as to the meaning and implication of OVW’s change. In the 116th Congress, legislation has been introduced that would amend the definition used in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) grant programs—the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019 (H.R. 1585), if enacted, would amend and expand the definition of DV.

Federal Definitions of DV

The federal...

How Would the American Family Act Change the Child Tax Credit?

The American Family Act (AFA; S. 690/H.R. 1560) would significantly expand the child tax credit for low- and moderate-income taxpayers, especially those with young children. It also would eliminate the expanded child tax credit for higher-income families in effect from 2018 to 2025 as a result of P.L. 115-97. This Insight describes some of the major changes that would be made to the child tax credit by this legislation.

Current Law

Under current law, eligible taxpayers can subtract up to $2,000 per qualifying child from their federal income tax liability. (See CRS Report R41873, The Child...

FY2020 Defense Budget Request: An Overview

The President’s FY2020 budget request includes $761.8 billion in budget authority for national defense, a major function of the federal budget that includes funding primarily for Department of Defense (DOD) programs but also for defense-related activities administered by other federal agencies, including the Department of Energy.

National defense is one of 20 major functions used by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to organize budget dataand the largest in terms of discretionary spending. The national defense budget function (identified by the numerical notation 050) comprises...

2019 Midwest Flooding: FEMA and Other Federal Programs and Resources

Introduction

This Insight provides a brief overview of the major disaster declaration process and federal assistance programs potentially available to those affected by the current flooding in the Midwest.

As authorized under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (P.L. 93-288, as amended; 42 U.S.C. §§5121 et seq.), the President may issue a major disaster declaration due to catastrophic flooding. This allows for a broad range of federal assistance programs to be made available to state and local governments, private nonprofit organizations, and individuals...

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. Water levels at the basin’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, could reach critically low levels. Building on prior agreements, recently the basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) transmitted to Congress drought contingency plans (DCPs) that aim to decrease the likelihood of major water and power supply disruptions for users.

Colorado River Basin in Context

The Colorado River Basin (Figure 1)...

Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights: U.S. Recognition of Israel’s Sovereignty Claim

On March 25, 2019, President Trump signed a proclamation stating that the United States recognizes the Golan Heights (hereinafter, the Golan) to be part of the State of Israel, based on the rationale that any future peace agreement should address threats Israel encounters from Syria—including from Iran and the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah. The President did not specify the territorial bounds of Israeli sovereignty that the United States recognizes in the Golan. Israel gained control of the Golan from Syria during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and effectively annexed it unilaterally by...

Cyclone Disaster in Mozambique and Surrounding Region

On March 14, a large and powerful tropical storm dubbed Cyclone Idai came ashore at Beira, a low-lying port city in central Mozambique, in southeastern Africa. It featured sustained winds as high as 120 miles per hour prior to making landfall and dumped torrents of rain over large parts of Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar. Its effects have been expansive and catastrophic—covering at least 1,200 square miles—and it is among the worst natural disasters ever to hit the region. Flooding has limited humanitarian response organizations’ access to much of the affected region.

Cyclone...

FY2020 Budget Request for the Department of Energy

The President’s FY2020 budget request includes $31.7 billion for the Department of Energy (DOE), approximately $4 billion (11%) less than the FY2019 enacted level of $35.7 billion (see Division A of P.L. 115-244). While this request would reduce the total budget for DOE, it would increase overall funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the Office of Electricity (OE), and the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER). The request would reduce funding for the Offices of Environmental Management, Science, Energy Efficiency and Renewable...

Proposed Air Force Acquisition of New F-15EXs

The Trump Administration’s FY2020 budget proposal includes a request for $1.1 billion to buy 8 F-15EX aircraft, the first procurement toward a planned initial buy of 144. This proposal represents a change from previous Air Force plans to procure only stealthy “fifth-generation” fighter aircraft. What is an F-15EX, and why might the Air Force have changed plans?

What Is an F-15EX?

The Air Force received its first F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter in 1974. Subsequently, the F-15 evolved to encompass more roles, most notably with the deployment of the F-15E Strike Eagle in 1989. The F-15E...

Indonesia Prepares for Election Rematch

Voters in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, are scheduled to go to the polls on April 17 to elect a President and the 560 members of the People’s Representative Council, Indonesia’s national Parliament. This will be Indonesia’s fourth direct presidential election and the first time presidential and parliamentary polls are to be simultaneous. It is also expected to be one of the largest democratic exercises in the world: among democracies, Indonesia trails only India and the United States in the size of its electorate.

The presidential polls pit the same two...

Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) Formula Grant Reauthorization

Although juvenile justice is administered by the states, the federal government plays a role in this area through the administration of grant programs. Congress has influenced juvenile justice policy and practice by authorizing and funding grant programs administered by the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA; P.L. 93-415) was the first comprehensive juvenile justice legislation passed by Congress. The JJDPA, among other things, authorized a series of grant programs...

Low Interest Rates, Part 3: Potential Causes

Interest rates have been unusually low by historical standards since the 2007-2009 financial crisis, as discussed in CRS Insight IN11044, Low Interest Rates, Part 1: Economic and Fiscal Implications, by Marc Labonte. This Insight discusses various theories of why rates have been low.

Nominal Versus Real Rates

Part of the reason why nominal interest rates (the stated rate familiar to most people) have been low is because inflation has been low since the crisis. Because inflation erodes the value of the return to an investment, it is common to adjust interest rates for inflation. Even when...

Trump Administration’s Proposed Removal of Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Benefits for India and Turkey

On March 4, 2019, President Trump notified Congress of his intent to terminate India’s and Turkey’s eligibility for the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), a U.S. trade program that provides nonreciprocal, duty-free tariff treatment to certain products imported from designated beneficiary developing countries (BDCs), in order to grow and develop their economies. Potential eligibility changes are subject to annual review and public notice and comment. The President’s determination on India arose from a review of the country’s market access practices; for Turkey, it was due to the...

Farm Debt and Chapter 12 Bankruptcy Eligibility

As farm income has declined over multiple years since 2013, the number of reported farm bankruptcies has begun to increase. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis observed that Chapter 12 farm bankruptcies increased in 2018 across the Midwest and appear to be higher among dairy farms. The American Farm Bureau Federation has compiled farm bankruptcy data from the U.S. Courts at the national level. According to this data, in 2018, 498 U.S. farms filed for Chapter 12 bankruptcy, nearly constant with 501 farm bankruptcies in 2017 (a rate of about 2.5 per 10,000 farms). The continuing steady...

Boeing 737 MAX Crashes Shake Confidence in International Air Safety

Recent foreign air disasters involving Boeing 737 Max airplanes have raised international concern about the safety of that aircraft and passenger airline safety in general. On October 29, 2018, Lion Air flight 610 crashed shortly after departure from Jakarta, Indonesia, killing all 189 on board. While the investigation of the crash is still ongoing, it has been disclosed that pilots flying the same aircraft the previous day experienced some sort of navigation system failure and that maintenance records revealed ongoing problems with the aircraft’s airspeed and angle-of-attack (AOA) sensors...

Thailand Set to Hold Long-Awaited Election

Nearly five years after the Royal Thai Army seized power in a coup d'état in 2014, the Kingdom of Thailand is officially set to hold nationwide parliamentary elections on March 24, 2019 (see Figure 1).

While the announcement comes as welcome news to many Thais, new elections may reignite political tensions and uncertainties that have been suppressed for the last four years under military rule. Thailand, a U.S. treaty ally, had emerged from the upheaval of the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis with a strongly democratic constitution and newly independent national institutions. However, political...

New Crisis Brewing in Burma’s Rakhine State?

Approximately 250 Chin and Rakhine refugees entered into Bangladesh’s Bandarban district in the first week of February, trying to escape the fighting between Burma’s military, or Tatmadaw, and one of Burma’s newest ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), the Arakan Army (AA). Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Abdul Momen summoned Burma’s ambassador Lwin Oo to protest the arrival of the Rakhine refugees and the military clampdown in Rakhine State. Bangladesh has reportedly closed its border to Rakhine State.

U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee released a...

DHS Unity of Effort: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

An unresolved debate dating from the origin of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the extent of department management involvement in the functioning of departmental components. Some policy experts supported a strong management function, which would replace the leadership of the components, while others supported a limited management function that allowed DHS components to function freely in their areas of expertise, much as they had before.

Once the department was established in 2003, it became clear that a small management cadre could not provide adequate coordination of policy...

Amazon’s HQ2 and Economic Development: Perspectives and Policy Options

In February 2019, facing political and public opposition, Amazon canceled the New York portion of its planned second headquarters (HQ2). Originally announced in November 2018, HQ2 was going to be split between the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, and Long Island City, NY, which Amazon claimed would each gain as many as 25,000 direct jobs as a result. According to its cancelation announcement, Amazon plans to proceed with its Virginia site, along with a smaller third site in Nashville also announced last November that Amazon suggested would generate 5,000 additional jobs....

An Electric Grid Based on 100% Renewable Energy?

A recent assessment by the U.S. Global Change Research Program found that if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue at current rates and adaptation actions are not undertaken, climate change impacts will damage U.S. infrastructure, communities, and the economy. This finding combined with significant GHG emissions from the electric power industry has led to an increased focus on U.S. energy policy. With growing amounts of today’s electricity coming from renewable sources, some stakeholders advocate a shift of U.S. national electric power generation to come from sources that do not emit...

U.S. Secret Service Protection of Persons and Facilities: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

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Congress has historically legislated and conducted oversight on the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) because of USSS’ public mission of protecting individuals such as the President and his family, and the USSS mission of investigating financial crimes. Most recently, the 115th Congress conducted oversight on challenges facing the Service and held hearings on legislation that addressed costs associated with USSS protective detail operations and special agents’ pay. These two issues remain pertinent in the 116th Congress due to recent, but failed, attacks on USSS protectees, and the media’s...

Guatemalan President’s Dispute with the U.N. Commission Against Impunity (CICIG)

Congress has supported successive Guatemalan governments’ efforts to strengthen democratic institutions; address crime, drugs, and rule of law; and root out corruption and impunity. The current situation in Guatemala involves a January 2019 decision by President Jimmy Morales to terminate unilaterally the mandate of the U.N.-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which has been investigating crime and corruption since 2007. Morales accused CICIG of violating Guatemala’s sovereignty, a claim U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres rejected. Guatemala’s...

The February 2019 Trump-Kim Hanoi Summit

Overview

On February 27 and 28, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met in Hanoi to discuss North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, as well as the establishment of a new relationship between the two countries. The two leaders had held one prior summit, in Singapore, in June 2018. The Hanoi summit ended earlier than scheduled, with the cancelation of both a lunch and a ceremony to sign a joint statement. President Trump and U.S. officials said that the two leaders parted amicably, and that they expected dialogue would resume at a later date. An article in North...

Israel: April 2019 Elections and Probable Indictments Against Prime Minister Netanyahu

The closely contested Israeli national elections scheduled for April 9, 2019, will have significant implications for the country’s leadership and future policies. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called for elections to take place seven months earlier than required by law, partly in hopes of winning a popular mandate to counteract legal allegations threatening his tenure. These allegations led to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit expressing his intent, on February 28, 2019, to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.

If Netanyahu maintains political support from voters...

EU Finalizes FDI Screening Framework

On February 14, 2019, the European Parliament approved a regulation (an EU law) that establishes a cooperation mechanism for screening foreign direct investment (FDI) in EU members that focuses on foreign investment in “critical technologies.” This action follows those of other jurisdictions, including the United States through enactment of the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018 (FIRRMA) that enhanced the role of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), to increase scrutiny of FDI as a component of national security. The legislation was...

P.L. 115-97 and the 2019 Federal Income Tax Filing Season for Individuals

In late 2017, a bill (H.R. 1) was enacted (P.L. 115-97) that made numerous changes to the federal income tax for individuals and businesses. For a summary of those changes, see CRS Report R45092, The 2017 Tax Revision (P.L. 115-97): Comparison to 2017 Tax Law, coordinated by Molly F. Sherlock and Donald J. Marples. (The title of the bill as passed by the House was the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, but it was stricken before final passage under the reconciliation process used to consider the bill.)

The changes in the taxation of individual income have implications for many of the key tax elements...

Pipeline Security: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

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Ongoing threats against the nation’s natural gas, oil, and refined product pipelines have heightened concerns about the security risks to these pipelines, their linkage to the electric power sector, and federal programs to protect them. In a December 2018 study, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated that, since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, “new threats to the nation’s pipeline systems have evolved to include sabotage by environmental activists and cyber attack or intrusion by nations.” In a 2018 Federal Register notice, the Transportation Security...

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy: Considering “No First Use”

On January 30, 2019, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Adam Smith introduced legislation (S. 272/H.R. 921) that declared, “It is the policy of the United States to not use nuclear weapons first.” Other Members of Congress are divided on this issue. Senator Dianne Feinstein has argued that the only moral use for U.S. nuclear weapons is as a deterrent to their use. Senator Deb Fischer, on the other hand, has said that the proposal “betrays a naïve and disturbed world view.”

A “no first use” policy would represent a change from current policy, where the United States has pledged to...

Sudan: Pressure Mounts on the Government

Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir, who took power in a 1989 coup, arguably faces the greatest challenge to his rule in three decades, as public pressure for a political transition mounts. Bashir’s government has been the target of near-daily protests across the country since December 19. A common refrain among the protesters is “Tasgut bas” (“Just fall, that’s all”).

Spurred by frustrations with deteriorating economic conditions, corruption, poor governance, and repression, the protests have been further fueled by the government’s response, in which more than 2,600 people reportedly have...

The Budget and Homeland Security: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

Congress at times has sought to ascertain how much the government spends on securing the homeland, either in current terms or historically. Several factors compromise the authoritativeness of any answer to this question. One such complication is the lack of a consensus definition of what constitutes homeland security, and another is that homeland security activities are carried out across the federal government, in partnership with other public and private sector entities. This insight examines those two complicating factors, and presents what information is available on historical...

Disaster Housing Assistance: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

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After the President issues an emergency or major disaster declaration under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act, 42 U.S.C. §§5121 et seq.), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may provide various temporary housing assistance programs to meet disaster survivors’ needs. However, limitations on these programs may make it difficult to transition disaster survivors into permanent housing. This Insight provides an overview of the primary housing assistance programs available under the Stafford Act, and potential considerations for...

The Disaster Recovery Reform Act: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

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The Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 (DRRA, Division D of P.L. 115-254), which became law on October 5, 2018, is the most comprehensive legislation on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) disaster assistance programs since the passage of the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 (SRIA, Division B of P.L. 113-2) and, previous to that, the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 (PKEMRA, P.L. 109-295). The legislation focuses on improving predisaster planning and mitigation, response, and recovery, and increasing FEMA accountability. As such, it amends...

India, Pakistan, and the Pulwama Crisis

Overview

On February 14, 2019, an explosives-laden SUV rammed into a convoy carrying paramilitary police in India’s Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) state. At least 40 personnel were killed in the explosion. The suicide attacker was a member of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), a Pakistan-based terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the bombing. The attack took place in Pulwama in the heart of the Kashmir Valley, site of a 30-year-old separatist conflict that pits the Indian government against Kashmiri militants who seek independence for India’s only Muslim-majority state or its merger with...

Redistricting Commissions for Congressional Districts

Historically, state legislatures have determined congressional district boundaries, and this remains true in most states today. The role of political actors in redistricting sometimes leads to concerns, by some, about conflicting incentives, if the process is used by incumbents to help boost their parties’ electoral gains. In recent Congresses, several bills have been introduced that could require states to use independent redistricting commissions for congressional redistricting; to date, no such legislation has been passed in either chamber.

Some states have adopted independent...

Low Interest Rates, Part 2: Implications for the Federal Reserve

Interest rates have been unusually low by historical standards since the 2007-2009 financial crisis. This Insight discusses the implications for monetary policy, and it frames this discussion in terms of the neutral interest rate. It is the sequel to a previous Insight, Low Interest Rates, Part 1. For background on monetary policy, see CRS Report RL30354, Monetary Policy and the Federal Reserve: Current Policy and Conditions, by Marc Labonte.

The Neutral Interest Rate

The neutral interest rate (sometimes called r*) is conceptual and not directly observed—it is the idea that at any given...

The Defense Department and 10 U.S.C. 284: Legislative Origins and Funding Questions

Introduction

On February 15, President Donald J. Trump confirmed recent reports that described the Administration’s consideration of Department of Defense (DOD) authorities and funds to emplace physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. A White House fact sheet detailed the potential availability of up to $8.1 billion “to build the border wall”—including, among other authorities and funding sources, “up to $2.5 billion under the Department of Defense funds transferred for Support for Counterdrug Activities (Title 10 United States Code, section 284).”

The full title of the referenced...

Selected Issues for National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Reauthorization and Reform: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

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NFIP Reauthorization

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is the primary source of flood insurance for residential properties in the United States, with more than 5.1 million policies providing over $1.3 trillion in coverage in over 22,000 communities. Since the end of FY2017, 10 short-term NFIP reauthorizations have been enacted, and the NFIP is currently authorized until May 31, 2019. Unless reauthorized or amended by Congress, on May 31, 2019, (1) the authority to provide new flood insurance contracts will expire and (2) the authority for the NFIP to borrow funds from the...

Macedonia Changes Name, Moves Closer to NATO Membership

On February 12, 2019, Macedonia formally changed its name to become the Republic of North Macedonia. The name change resolves a long-standing dispute with Greece and is expected to clear the path for North Macedonia to become NATO’s 30th member. U.S. and European Union (EU) officials believe NATO enlargement to the Western Balkans could help stabilize the region and counter Russian influence. Many Members of Congress have long supported Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic integration.

Prespa Agreement with Greece

North Macedonia’s NATO membership bid was delayed due to a nearly three-decade...

Protection of Executive Branch Officials: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

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Due to the October 2018 attempted bombing attacks on current and former government officials (and others), there may be congressional interest in policy issues surrounding protective details for government officials. Attacks against political leaders and other public figures have been a consistent security issue in the United States. According to a 1998 U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) report, data on assassinations and assassination attempts against federal officials suggest that elected officials are more likely to be targeted than those holding senior appointed positions. Congress also...

National Preparedness Policy: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

The United States is threatened by a wide array of hazards, including natural disasters, acts of terrorism, viral pandemics, and man-made disasters, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The way the nation strategically prioritizes and allocates resources to prepare for all hazards can significantly influence the ultimate cost to society, both in the number of human casualties and the scope and magnitude of economic damage. As authorized in part by the Post-Katrina Emergency Reform Act of 2006 (PKEMRA; P.L. 109-295), the President, acting through the Federal Emergency Management Agency...

Latin America: Challenges for U.S. Policymakers in 2019

The 116th Congress faces a host of policy challenges in Latin America in 2019. Democratic practices have eroded in several countries, especially Venezuela and Nicaragua, and the region has experienced an economic slowdown and increased poverty in recent years. The flow of illicit drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine, and fentanyl from Mexico and cocaine from Colombia, continues to pose risks to U.S. public health and safety, according to the U.S. intelligence community’s 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment.

Under the Trump Administration, the tenor of relations with Latin America has...

2019 Tax Filing Season and a Partial Government Shutdown

The possibility of a partial shutdown of the federal government beginning on February 16 is raising renewed concern about how it would affect Internal Revenue Service (IRS) operations during the 2019 tax filing season, which lasts from January 28 through April 15, for most taxpayers. Funding for the agency would lapse if Congress and the President cannot agree on a plan to fund the Treasury Department (and certain other federal agencies) beyond February 15, when a continuing resolution is due to expire. A central concern is the ability of the IRS to assist taxpayers and tax practitioners...

Where’s My Refund? A Look at Tax Refund Trends over Time and Across Income Levels

The issue of tax refunds has received robust media attention as 2018 tax returns are filed in early 2019. For individual income tax filers, 2018 was the first year in which the major changes signed into law by President Trump at the end of 2017 (P.L. 115-97) became effective.
What Determines Tax Refunds? A taxpayer’s tax refund (or payment) in a given year is determined by
income tax liability: what a taxpayer owes in federal income tax; and income tax withholding: the amount that the taxpayer has paid toward that tax bill during the year, often through their employer withholding...

The End of Intra-EU Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS): Implications for the United States

On January 15, 2019, the 28 European Union (EU) member states declared that they will terminate all intra-European bilateral investment treaties (BITs) (i.e., those between member states) no later than December 6, 2019 (see the Declaration). The action by the EU member states is the latest in a series of actions that has altered the status of traditional investor-state-dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms within the European Union. ISDS mechanisms, which enable foreign investors to bring disputes with host states before independent international arbitral tribunals, have been a common...

The Federal Income Tax: How Did P.L. 115-97 Change Marginal Income Tax Rates?

At the end of 2017, President Trump signed into law P.L. 115-97, which is commonly referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, or TCJA. (The title of the bill as passed by the House was the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, but it was eliminated before final passage under the reconciliation process used to consider the bill in the Senate.) This law made numerous changes to the federal income tax for individuals and businesses. Of the many changes made to individual income tax provisions, the law temporarily changed marginal tax rates. These changes are currently in effect from 2018 through the end of...

Border Security Between Ports of Entry: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

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The United States’ southern border with Mexico runs for approximately 2,000 miles over diverse terrain, varied population densities, and discontinuous sections of public, private, and tribal land ownership. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is primarily responsible for border security, including the construction and maintenance of tactical infrastructure, installation and monitoring of surveillance technology, and the deployment of border patrol agents to prevent unlawful entries of people and contraband into the United States (including...

U.S. National Health Security: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

In its quadrennial National Health Security Strategy, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) states:

U.S. National Health Security actions protect the nation’s physical and psychological health, limit economic losses, and preserve confidence in government and the national will to pursue its interests when threatened by incidents that result in serious health consequences whether natural, accidental, or deliberate.

The strategy aims to ensure the resilience of the nation’s public health and health care systems against potential threats, including natural disasters and...

Venezuela Oil Sector Sanctions: Market and Trade Impacts

On January 28, 2019, the Trump Administration imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA), adding to existing Venezuela sanctions. The Department of the Treasury determined that persons (e.g., individuals and companies) operating in Venezuela’s oil sector are subject to sanctions in order to apply economic pressure on the government of Nicolas Maduro and facilitate a transition to democracy. Subsequently, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added PdVSA—including all entities in which PdVSA has a 50% or more ownership...

Congressional Member Organizations (CMOs) and Informal Member Groups

In addition to party organizations and committees, Members of the House and Senate often participate in informal Member organizations. In the 115th Congress, 854 informal Member organizations—which are commonly referred to as caucuses, working groups, or task forces—existed. In this Insight, however, they are collectively described as informal Member organizations to avoid confusion with official party caucuses. Additional information can be found in CRS Report R40683, Congressional Member Organizations (CMOs) and Informal Member Groups: Their Purpose and Activities, History, and...

Department of Homeland Security Human Resources Management: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

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Human resources management (HRM) underlies the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) mission and performance. DHS’s Chief Human Capital Officer (CHCO) “is responsible for the Department’s human capital program,” which is described as including such elements as “human resources policy, systems, and programs for strategic workforce planning, recruitment and hiring, pay and leave, performance management, employee development, executive resources, labor relations, work/life and safety and health.”

Under Title 5, Section 1402, of the United States Code, a CHCO’s functions include...

El Salvador’s 2019 Elections

On February 3, 2019, Nayib Bukele, a 37-year-old former mayor of San Salvador and candidate of the Grand Alliance of National Unity (GANA) party, won El Salvador’s presidential election. Bukele garnered 53% of the vote, well ahead of Carlos Calleja, a business executive running for a conservative National Republican Alliance (ARENA)-led coalition, with 31.8%, and Hugo Mártinez, a former foreign minister of the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), with 14.4%. Bukele’s first-round victory occurred amid relatively low voter turnout (44.7%) during a peaceful electoral...

Venezuela: U.S. Recognizes Interim Government

Many in Congress are closely following events in Venezuela, given recent political developments that have led the United States and other governments to recognize an interim government. On January 23, 2019, amid widespread protests against the authoritarian government of President Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela’s democratically elected, opposition-controlled National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, declared himself interim president of Venezuela until new presidential elections are convened. The United States, Canada, and more than 35 other countries have recognized Guaidó as the...

Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-253) and U.S. Aid for the Palestinians

The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA, P.L. 115-253) became law on October 3, 2018. Congress passed the law in the wake of a U.S. federal court case dealing with past acts of terrorism by Palestinians (discussed below, “U.S. Policy Implications and Options”). The law amended the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) (at 18 U.S.C. 2334) by stating that a defendant consents to personal jurisdiction in U.S. federal court for lawsuits related to international terrorism if the defendant accepts certain types of U.S. foreign aid after the law has been in effect for 120 days.

In December, Palestinian...

U.S. Withdrawal from the INF Treaty

U.S. Withdrawal

The United States will suspend its obligations under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and submit its formal notice of withdrawal to Russia on February 2, 2019. President Donald Trump first announced the U.S. withdrawal on October 20, 2018, and stated on February 1, 2019, that the United States was taking this step because Russia was violating the treaty by “developing and fielding a prohibited missile system that poses a direct threat to our allies and troops abroad.”

Under the INF Treaty, the United States and Soviet Union agreed to ban all land-based...

Evaluating Possible U.S. Troop Withdrawals from Hostile Areas

On December 19, 2018, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria within 30 days, although Administration officials subsequently suggested that the process could take several months. Subsequent press articles indicated that the White House is also considering withdrawing “up to half” of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in the coming months, although at the time of writing the Trump Administration has stated it has not yet ordered any such withdrawal. More recently, the United States has been negotiating with Afghan Taliban representatives regarding the conditions...

The U.S. Intelligence Community: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

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Intelligence support of homeland security is a primary mission of the entire Intelligence Community (IC). In fulfilling this mission, changes to IC organization and process, since 9/11, have enabled more integrated and effective support than witnessed or envisioned since its inception. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 revealed how barriers between intelligence and law enforcement, which originally had been created to protect civil liberties, had become too rigid, thus preventing efficient, effective coordination against threats. In its final report, the Commission on Terrorist Attacks...

Drug Trafficking at the Southwest Border: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

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The United States sustains a multi-billion dollar illegal drug market. An estimated 28.6 million Americans, or 10.6% of the population age 12 or older, had used illicit drugs at least once in the past month in 2016. The 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment indicates that Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) continue to dominate the U.S. drug market. They “remain the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States; no other group is currently positioned to challenge them.” The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) indicates that these TCOs maintain and expand their...

The Trump Administration’s National Strategy for Counterterrorism: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

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On October 4, 2018, President Trump released his Administration’s first National Strategy for Counterterrorism. The overarching goal of the strategy is to “defeat the terrorists who threaten America’s safety, prevent future attacks, and protect our national interests.” In describing the need for this strategy, National Security Advisor John Bolton stated that the terrorist “landscape is more fluid and complex than ever” and that the strategy will not “focus on a single organization but will counter all terrorists with the ability and intent to harm the United States, its citizens and...

Emergency Communications: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress

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Overview First responders and other emergency personnel use emergency communications systems to communicate with each other during day-to-day operations and large-scale disasters. Emergency communication systems are also used to enable communications between the public and response agencies. Emergency communication systems include 911 systems that receive calls from the public, requesting assistance or reporting an emergency, and that relay those calls to response agencies (e.g., local police and fire departments); land mobile radio (LMR) systems that allow police, firefighters, and...

New Law Requires Agencies to Report on Outstanding IG Recommendations

On January 3, 2019, President Donald Trump signed into law the Good Accounting Obligation in Government Act (GAO-IG Act), which requires agency reporting on outstanding inspector general (IG) recommendations, among other things. The act requires covered agencies to include in their annual budget justifications information on outstanding recommendations made by their respective IGs, including

a list of each public IG recommendation that was published at least one year before submission of the annual budget justification and for which no final action was taken;

the status of each...

A Possible Second U.S.-North Korea Summit: What Diplomacy Has and Hasn’t Achieved

Summary of January 2018-January 2019 Developments

In late January 2019, President Donald Trump said he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “probably at the end of February.” The summit would be the second between the two leaders, following their summit in Singapore in June 2018. As of January 22, the White House has not detailed the substance of the planned meeting. Washington and Pyongyang appeared to reach few substantive agreements ahead of the last summit, which Trump described as a “getting to know you” occasion.

If the Trump-Kim summit occurs, it would continue the...

The U.S. Army and Multi-Domain Operations

What Are Multi-Domain Operations (MDO)?

According to the Army:

Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) describes how the U.S. Army, as part of the joint force [Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines] can counter and defeat a near-peer adversary capable of contesting the U.S. in all domains [air, land, maritime, space, and cyberspace] in both competition and armed conflict. The concept describes how U.S. ground forces, as part of the joint and multinational team, deters adversaries and defeats highly capable near-peer enemies in the 2025-2050 timeframe.

MDO provides commanders numerous options for...

Brexit Deal Rejected: What Now?

Draft Agreement Fails to Gain Support

On January 15, 2019, the United Kingdom’s (UK’s) House of Commons rejected a draft agreement on the terms of the country’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) by a vote of 432-202. Prime Minister Theresa May is to return to Parliament by January 21, 2019, to present her “plan B” for how to move forward with exiting the EU (“Brexit”) on March 29, 2019.

Brexit supporters, including the 118 members of Parliament (MPs) from May’s Conservative Party who voted against the government’s proposal, objected that the deal’s “backstop” provision, which would...

Federal Grants to State and Local Governments: Issues Raised by the Partial Government Shutdown

At the end of the day on December 21, 2018, the continuing appropriations measure, Making Further Continuing Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2019 (P.L. 115-298), which encompasses 7 of the 12 regular annual appropriations acts, expired. The resulting lapse in appropriations resulted in the partial shutdown of unfunded agencies beginning on December 22, 2018. Federal agencies that received their FY2019 appropriations under the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, 2019 (P.L. 115-244), and the Department of Defense and Labor,...

Military Construction Funding in the Event of a National Emergency

The President’s reported consideration of whether to invoke various statutory authorities (including some triggered by a declaration of a national emergency) to direct the Department of Defense (DOD) to construct “a physical barrier” along the U.S.-Mexico border has raised questions about potentially available appropriated funds. This Insight identifies previous military construction projects funded through emergency authorities and unobligated military construction funding balances.

Title 10 U.S.C. Section 2808 is entitled Construction authority in the event of a declaration of war or...

CRS Series: Introduction to Financial Services

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has created a series providing an introduction to various financial services issues in the 116th Congress. Click on any of the titles below to access an In Focus, a two-page briefing product on issues of active and ongoing interest to Congress.

The CRS authors are also available to answer questions from congressional clients, research policy issues, prepare confidential memoranda, and provide in-person briefings. Their contact information may be found in each In Focus.

The Regulatory Framework

As shown in Figure 1, financial activity can generally...

The Federal Income Tax: How Do Marginal Income Tax Rates Work?

Calculating Income Tax Liability For many taxpayers, calculating their federal income tax liability can be broken down into three main steps. Taxpayers calculate the amount of their income subject to taxation (i.e., their taxable income). Taxpayers apply marginal income tax rates to their taxable income to determine their “pre-tax credit” income tax liability. Taxpayers subtract any tax credits from their pre-tax credit income tax liability to determine their final income tax liability. Some taxpayers with more complex tax situations, including those who are subject to the alternative...

Failed Coup Attempt in Gabon

On January 7, a small group of Gabonese soldiers seized the state broadcasting building in Gabon’s capital, Libreville, and declared their intention to overthrow the government of President Ali Bongo Ondimba. Within hours, security forces retook the building and put down the coup attempt. The attempt followed months of political uncertainty after the president (aged 59) suffered a stroke in Saudi Arabia in October 2018; he has since remained outside the country and is currently convalescing in Morocco.

Separately, the coup attempt came days after President Trump announced the deployment,...

Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 (S.1): An Overview

Overview

On January 3, 2019, Senator Marco Rubio and three cosponsors introduced S. 1, the Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 (or SASME). The bill combines four legislative proposals, three of which were passed in some form by at least one chamber during the 115th Congress. While significant portions of SASME received broad bipartisan support during the 115th Congress, Members differ over whether S. 1 should be considered amidst a partial government shutdown. On January 8, cloture on the motion to proceed to Senate floor consideration of S. 1 was rejected by a...

Romania Assumes the EU Presidency amid Domestic Turmoil

On January 1, 2019, Romania assumed the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union (hereinafter, the EU presidency) for the first time since joining the European Union (EU) in 2007. The six-month position provides an opportunity for Romania to raise its standing within the EU. However, Romania’s EU presidency could be overshadowed by domestic political turmoil and external criticism of its recent justice reforms, which some EU and U.S. officials view as a threat to the rule of law.

EU Presidency

The Council of the EU is considered a key institution that represents EU...

Economic Effects of the FY2019 Government Shutdown

On December 22, 2018, funding lapsed for certain federal agencies, initiating a shutdown of those agencies. This Insight discusses how the shutdown could affect the overall economy. Official economic data will not be available for some time, and the data needed to answer some questions about the shutdown will never be available. Instead, the Insight reviews private forecasts, relevant data concepts, and evidence of the economic effects of the 16-day FY2014 shutdown (which occurred in October 2013).

For more information on government shutdowns, see CRS Report RL34680, Shutdown of the...

USDA’s Final Rule on Milk, Whole Grains, and Sodium in School Meals

On December 12, 2018, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced a final rule on “flexibilities” for milk, whole grains, and sodium in child nutrition programs. The rule alters certain aspects of the nutrition standards for school meals that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (USDA-FNS) updated in 2012 based on a timeline set by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA, P.L. 111-296). The release of the final rule follows years of debate over the updated standards and previous actions by Congress and USDA to loosen the milk, whole grain, and sodium...

Amazon HQ2 and Federal Opportunity Zone Tax Incentives

On November 13, 2018, Amazon announced that it would be splitting its second headquarters (HQ2) between Northern Virginia and Long Island City, NY. According to the company, each HQ2 site is expected to add 25,000 jobs over 12 years. Additionally, Amazon announced that it would build an “Operations Center of Excellence” that is expected to add more than 5,000 jobs in Nashville, TN. State and local governments offered Amazon a range of tax incentives, grants, and other benefits (e.g., a nearby state university “innovation campus”). Some of these incentives are performance-based and would...

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...

Yemen: Peace Talks and Current Congressional Action

Overview

On December 6, 2018, the warring parties to the conflict in Yemen convened in Sweden under the auspices of the United Nations to discuss various de-escalation proposals and a possible road map to a comprehensive peace settlement. The 10-day talks are the first formal negotiations since 2016, and they coincide with Senate consideration of several pieces of legislation that would, among other things, endorse United Nations-led efforts for a comprehensive political settlement to the conflict in Yemen and censure Saudi Arabia for the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

These...

The G-20 Summit and Trump-Xi Meeting in Buenos Aires: Key Outcomes

Argentina hosted the annual Group of 20 (G-20) summit on November 30 and December 1 in Buenos Aires. 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. Although Argentina set the agenda for 2018, proposing a focus on the future of work, infrastructure development, and food security, most attention in the lead-up to the summit...

Presidential State Funerals: Past Practices and Security Considerations

On November 30, 2018, former President George H.W. Bush died. In the tradition of past presidential deaths, President Bush will receive a state funeral (designated as a National Special Security Event), which includes several ceremonial events in Washington, DC, prior to his burial at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Center at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. The state funeral process is carried out by the Joint Task Force-National Capital Region, a division of the Military District of Washington (MDW). The official schedule for President Bush’s state funeral is...

Russia’s Use of Force Against the Ukrainian Navy

Naval Incident Escalates Tensions

On November 25, 2018, Russian coast guard vessels in the Black Sea forcibly prevented two small Ukrainian armored artillery boats and a tugboat from transiting the Kerch Strait en route to the Ukrainian port of Berdyansk, on the Sea of Azov, according to official Ukrainian and Russian reports (see Figure 1). After ramming the tugboat and blockading all three boats for hours, the Russian vessels reportedly fired on them as they sought to leave the area, injuring six sailors. The Ukrainian boats and their 24 crew members were detained and taken to Kerch, in...

After Prudential, 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...

Brexit at a Pivotal Moment

UK Parliament to Vote on Withdrawal Agreement

Four months away from the United Kingdom’s (UK’s) expected withdrawal from the European Union (EU), discord and uncertainty remain central themes in the analysis of “Brexit.” The efforts of UK and EU negotiators to reconcile a complex set of competing interests and preferences have produced a 585-page draft withdrawal agreement and a 26-page political declaration on the future UK-EU relationship. EU leaders signed off on the deal in late November 2018, leaving a vote by the European Parliament as the final step for approval by the EU before the...

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. No full-year FY2019 FSGG bill was enacted prior to the end of FY2018. The FSGG agencies were provided continuing appropriations until December 7, 2018, in Division C of P.L. 115-245.

Although financial services are a focus of the FSGG bill, the bill does not include...

Revisiting the Doubling Effort: Trends in Federal Funding for Basic Research in the Physical Sciences and Engineering

The adequacy of federal investment in physical sciences and engineering (PS&E) basic research is a long-standing concern of many in industry and academia. This topic received much attention in the early 2000s due to perceived underinvestment in these disciplines. Many Members of Congress, industry leaders, and science and technology policy analysts asserted that the long-term competitive position and national security of the United States depended in large measure on the rapid increases in federal funding for PS&E. PS&E research provides the foundation for materials, products, and...

Election Policy on the November 2018 Ballot

On November 6, voters in some states did not just vote on the policymakers who will represent them. They also made policy themselves, by approving or rejecting ballot measures.

Some of the measures on state ballots included provisions that would affect the conduct of federal elections. Most of those measures succeeded. Thirteen state measures with implications for federal elections were on the ballot in 10 states, and 12 were approved.

What Are Ballot Measures?

Ballot measures are policy questions that are decided by popular vote. Local measures are voted on by residents of a locality,...

Military Medical Care: Mitigating Impacts From Medical Unit Deployments

Contingency and peacetime missions consistently require temporary reassignment of military medical personnel from military treatment facilities (MTF) to a deployable medical unit. In certain instances, MTF services may be limited in times of war, operations other than war, natural disasters, or other contingencies. This restriction is not uncommon. Notwithstanding these circumstances, the Department of Defense (DOD) is required to provide statutory health benefits to its eligible beneficiaries by mitigating fluctuations in MTF services. Chapter 55 of Title 10, U.S. Code, specifies health...

California Wildfires: Brief Overview of FEMA Programs and Resources

Introduction

This Insight provides a brief overview of the major disaster declaration issued for the ongoing wildfires in California. It also provides links to selected CRS products related to the disaster.

As authorized under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, President Trump issued a major disaster declaration on November 12, 2018. The major disaster declaration allows for the broadest range of assistance to be made available to state and local governments; private, nonprofit organizations; and individuals. The major disaster declaration also...

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...

Brazil’s Presidential Election

Brazil—the fifth most populous country and ninth-largest economy in the world—held presidential, legislative, and state elections in October 2018. Antiestablishment sentiment carried the day, as voters elected Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right populist, to the presidency and replaced nearly half of congress. The results could have significant implications for Brazil’s domestic policies as well as its relationship with the United States.

Domestic Context

The 2018 election took place as Brazil was struggling to emerge from a series of domestic crises. The country fell into a deep recession in...

Acute Flaccid Myelitis: How CDC Assists States in Investigating Emerging Diseases

Concern has grown over the recent increase in Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) cases around the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), AFM is a rare condition with no specific treatment that mostly impacts children. AFM affects a person’s nervous system, particularly the gray matter of the spinal cord, causing weakness in the arms and legs along with other symptoms. Media reports often refer to AFM as a “polio-like condition” because its symptoms mirror those associated with poliovirus infection. To date, all AFM cases have tested negative for poliovirus,...

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

In the past year, 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....

Presidential Proclamation on Unlawful Border Crossers and Asylum

On November 9, 2018, President Donald Trump issued a presidential proclamation to immediately suspend the entry of foreign nationals (aliens) who cross into the United States at the U.S.-Mexico border without inspection. The pronouncement further references that those who enter in contravention of the suspension will be ineligible for asylum under an interim final rule issued jointly by the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice on that same date. The proclamation and the rule are being challenged in federal court.

In the words of the proclamation, its issuance was prompted by the...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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 (hereinafter, 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...

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...

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...

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”...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...