Addressing the Long-Run Deficit: A Comparison of Approaches

Addressing the Long-Run Deficit: A Comparison of Approaches.  Congressional Research Service. Jane G. Gravelle, Donald J. Marples. May 14, 2019

The growth of the national debt, which is considered unsustainable under current policies, continues to be one of the central issues of domestic federal policymaking.  Addressing a federal budget deficit that is unsustainable over the long run involves choices. Fundamentally, the issues require deciding what government goods, services, and transfers are worth paying taxes for. Most people would agree that the country benefits from a wide range of government services—air traffic controllers, border security, courts and corrections, and so forth—provided by the federal government. Yet federal government provision of goods and services comprises only a modest portion of the federal budget. Transfers, including interest payments, accounted for around 75% of the federal budget.

[PDF format, 34 pages].

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Management of the Colorado River: Water Allocations, Drought, and the Federal Role

Management of the Colorado River: Water Allocations, Drought, and the Federal Role.  Congressional Research Service. Charles V. Stern, Pervaze A. Sheikh. Updated May 17, 2019

The Colorado River Basin covers more than 246,000 square miles in seven U.S. states (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California) and Mexico. Pursuant to federal law, the Bureau of Reclamation (part of the Department of the Interior) manages much of the basin’s water supplies. Colorado River water is used primarily for agricultural irrigation and municipal and industrial (M&I) uses, but it also is important for power production, fish and wildlife, and recreational uses. 

In recent years, consumptive uses of Colorado River water have exceeded natural flows. This causes an imbalance in the basin’s available supplies and competing demands. A drought in the basin dating to 2000 has raised the prospect of water delivery curtailments and decreased hydropower production, among other things. In the future, observers expect that increasing demand for supplies, coupled with the effects of climate change, will further increase the strain on the basin’s limited water supplies.

[PDF format, 29 pages].

Federal Public Transportation Program: In Brief

Federal Public Transportation Program: In Brief.  Congressional Research Service. William J. Mallett. Updated May 14, 2019

Federal assistance to public transportation is provided primarily through the public transportation program administered by the Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The federal public transportation program was authorized from FY2016 through FY2020 as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (P.L. 114-94). This report provides an introduction to the program as authorized by the FAST Act. Major federal involvement in public transportation dates to the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964 (P.L. 88-365). Prior to the mid-1960s there was very little public funding of public transportation. With much lower ridership than existed at the end of World War II and mounting debts, however, many private transit companies were reorganized as public entities. Federal funding was initially used to recapitalize transit systems. Today, the focus of the federal program is still on the capital side, but the program has evolved to support operational expenses in some circumstances, as well as safety oversight, planning, and research.

[PDF format, 12 pages].

Fiscal Policy: Economic Effects

Fiscal Policy: Economic Effects.  Congressional Research Service. Jeffrey M. Stupak. May 16, 2019

Fiscal policy is the means by which the government adjusts its spending and revenue to influence the broader economy. By adjusting its level of spending and tax revenue, the government can affect the economy by either increasing or decreasing economic activity in the short term. For example, when the government runs a budget deficit, it is said to be engaging in fiscal stimulus, spurring economic activity, and when the government runs a budget surplus, it is said to be engaging in a fiscal contraction, slowing economic activity. 

In recent history, the federal government has generally followed a pattern of increasing fiscal stimulus during a recession, then decreasing fiscal stimulus during the economic recovery. Prior to the “Great Recession” of 20072009 the federal budget deficit was about 1% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007. During the recession, the budget deficit grew to nearly 10% of GDP in part due to additional fiscal stimulus applied to the economy. The budget deficit began shrinking in 2010, falling to about 2% of GDP by 2015. In contrast to the typical pattern of fiscal policy, the budget deficit began growing again in 2016, rising to nearly 4% of GDP in 2018 despite relatively strong economic conditions. This change in fiscal policy is notable, as expanding fiscal stimulus when the economy is not depressed can result in rising interest rates, a growing trade deficit, and accelerating inflation. As of publication of this report, interest rates have not risen discernibly and are still near historic lows, and inflation rates show no sign of acceleration. The trade deficit has been growing in recent years; however, it is not clear that this growth in the trade deficit is a result of increased fiscal stimulus.

[PDF format, 14 pages].

Medicare Primer

Medicare Primer. Congressional Research Service. Patricia A. Davis et al. Updated May 20, 2019

Medicare is a federal program that pays for covered health care services of qualified beneficiaries. It was established in 1965 under Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide health insurance to individuals 65 and older, and has been expanded over the years to include permanently disabled individuals under the age of 65. Medicare, which consists of four parts (AD), covers hospitalizations, physician services, prescription drugs, skilled nursing facility care, home health visits, and hospice care, among other services. Generally, individuals are eligible for Medicare if they or their spouse worked for at least 40 quarters in Medicare-covered employment, are 65 years old, and are a citizen or permanent resident of the United States. Individuals may also qualify for coverage if they are a younger person who cannot work because they have a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death, or have end-stage renal disease (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or transplant). The program is administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and by private entities that contract with CMS to provide claims processing, auditing, and quality oversight services.

[PDF format, 43 pages].

Democratic Defense Against Disinformation 2.0

Democratic Defense Against Disinformation 2.0. Atlantic Council. Alina Polyakova and Daniel Fried. June 2019

This Atlantic Council paper is the second edition of “Democratic Defense Against Disinformation.” The first edition was published in February 2018.

Foreign interference in democratic elections has put disinformation at the forefront of policy in Europe and the United States. The second edition of Democratic Defense Against Disinformation takes stock of how governments, multinational institutions, civil-society groups, and the private sector have responded to the disinformation challenge. As democracies have responded, our adversaries have adapted and evolved. As the speed and efficiency of influence operations increase, democratic societies need to further invest in resilience and resistance to win the new information war. Democratic Defense Against Disinformation 2.0 is a report card on efforts and a roadmap for policymakers and social media companies. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 32 pages].

SBA Office of the National Ombudsman: Overview, History, and Current Issues

SBA Office of the National Ombudsman: Overview, History, and Current Issues. Congressional Research Service.  Robert Jay Dilger. Updated April 4, 2019

The Office of the National Ombudsman was created in 1996 as part of P.L. 104-121, the Contract with America Advancement Act of 1996 (Title II, the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 [SBREFA]). Housed within the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the office’s primary purpose is to provide small businesses, small government entities (those serving populations of less than 50,000), and small nonprofit organizations that believe they have experienced unfair or excessive regulatory compliance or enforcement actions (such as repetitive audits or investigations, excessive fines, and retaliation by federal agencies) a means to comment about such actions.

[PDF format, 19 pages].