Electoral College Reform: Contemporary Issues for Congress. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. Thomas H. Neale. October 6, 2017
The electoral college method of electing the President and Vice President was established in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution and revised by the Twelfth Amendment. It provides for election of the President and Vice President by electors, commonly referred to as the electoral college. A majority of 270 of the 538 electoral votes is necessary to win.
The electoral college has been the subject of criticism and proposals for reform since before 1800. Constitutional and structural criticisms have centered on several of its features: (1) although today all electors are chosen by the voters in the presidential election, it is claimed to be not fully democratic, since it provides indirect election of the President; (2) it can lead to the election of candidates who win the electoral college but fewer popular votes than their opponents, or to contingent election in Congress if no candidate wins an electoral college majority; (3) it results in electoral vote under- and over-representation for some states between censuses; and (4) “faithless” electors can vote for candidates other than those they were elected to support.
Legislative and political criticisms include (1) the general ticket system, currently used in all states except Maine and Nebraska, which is alleged to disenfranchise voters who prefer the losing candidates in the states; (2) various asserted “biases” that are alleged to favor different states and groups; and (3) the electoral college “lock,” which has been claimed to provide an electoral college advantage to both major parties at different times.
[PDF format, 31 pages, 801.16 KB].
Programs for Minority-Serving Institutions Under the Higher Education Act. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. Alexandra Hegji. September 12, 2017
Minority-serving institutions (MSIs) are institutions of higher education that serve high concentrations of minority students who, historically, have been underrepresented in higher education. Many MSIs have faced challenges in securing adequate financial support, thus affecting their ability to develop and enhance their academic offerings and ultimately serve their students. Federal higher education policy recognizes the importance of such institutions and targets financial resources to them. Funding for MSIs is channeled through numerous federal agencies, and several of these funding sources are available to MSIs through grant programs authorized under the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA; P.L. 89-329). Over the years, HEA programs that support MSIs have expanded and now include programs for institutions serving a wide variety of student populations. In FY2016, MSI programs under the HEA were appropriated approximately $817 million, which helped fund more than 929 grants to institutions.
[PDF format, 52 pages, 954.26 KB].
Social Security: What Would Happen If the Trust Funds Ran Out? Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. William R. Morton, Wayne Liou. September 12, 2017
Social Security’s income and outlays are accounted for through two federal trust funds: the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund. Under their intermediate assumptions and under current law, the Social Security trustees project that the DI Trust Fund will become depleted in 2028 and the OASI Trust Fund will become depleted in 2035. Although the two funds are legally separate, they are often considered in combination. The trustees project that the combined Social Security trust funds will become depleted in 2034. At that point, revenue would be sufficient to pay only about 77% of scheduled benefits.
[PDF format, 21 pages, 890.68 KB].
Social Security: The Trust Funds. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. William R. Morton, Wayne Liou. September 12, 2017
The Social Security program pays monthly cash benefits to retired or disabled workers and their family members and to the family members of deceased workers. Program income and outgo are accounted for in two separate trust funds authorized under Title II of the Social Security Act: the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund. Projections show that the OASI fund will remain solvent until 2035, whereas the DI fund will remain solvent until 2028, meaning that each trust fund can pay benefits scheduled under current law in full and on time up to that point. Following the depletion of trust fund reserves (2028 for DI and 2035 for OASI), continuing income to each fund is projected to cover 93% of DI scheduled benefits and 75% of OASI scheduled benefits. The two trust funds are legally distinct and do not have authority to borrow from each other. However, Congress has authorized the shifting of funds between OASI and DI in the past to address shortfalls in a particular fund. Therefore, this CRS report discusses the operations of the OASI and DI trust funds on a combined basis, referring to them collectively as the Social Security trust funds. On a combined basis, the trust funds are projected to remain solvent until 2034. Following depletion of combined trust fund reserves at that point, continuing income is projected to cover 77% of scheduled benefits.
[PDF format, 21 pages, 863.81 KB].
Economic Impact of Infrastructure Investment. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. Jeffrey M. Stupak. July 18, 2017
Infrastructure investment has received renewed interest as of late, with both President Trump and some Members of Congress discussing the benefits of such spending. Infrastructure can be defined in a number of ways depending on the policy discussion; in general, however, the term refers to longer-lived, capital-intensive systems and facilities, such as roads, bridges, and water treatment facilities.
Over the past several decades, government investment in infrastructure as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) has declined. Annual infrastructure investment by federal, state, and local governments peaked in the late 1930s, at about 4.2% of GDP, and since has fallen to about 1.6% of GDP in 2016. State and local governments consistently spend more on infrastructure directly than the federal government. In 2016, direct federal spending on nondefense infrastructure was less than 0.1% of GDP, whereas state and local spending was about 1.5% of GDP. However, the federal government transfers some funds each year to state and local governments for capital projects, which includes infrastructure projects, equaling about 0.4% of GDP in 2016. The United States also lags many other developed countries with respect to annual infrastructure spending. Spending on infrastructure, as a percentage of GDP, is higher in all G7 countries, except for Italy and Germany, than in the United States.
[PDF format, 19 pages, 813.5 KB].
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting: Federal Funding And Issues. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. Glenn J. McLoughlin, Lena A. Gomez. April 4, 2017
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) receives its funding through federal appropriations; overall, about 15% of public television and 10% of radio broadcasting funding comes from the federal appropriations that CPB distributes. CPB’s appropriation is allocated through a distribution formula established in its authorizing legislation and has historically received two-year advanced appropriations. Congressional policymakers are increasingly interested in the federal role in supporting CPB due to concerns over the federal debt, the role of the federal government funding for public radio and television, and whether public broadcasting provides a balanced and nuanced approach to covering news of national interest.
It is also important to note that many congressional policymakers defend the federal role of funding public broadcasting. They contend that it provides news and information to large segments of the population that seek to understand complex policy issues in depth, and in particular for children’s television broadcasting, has a significant and positive impact on early learning and education for children.
[PDF format, 12 pages, 791.41 KB].
Independence of Federal Financial Regulators: Structure, Funding, and Other Issues. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. Henry B. Hogue, Marc Labonte, Baird Webel. February 28, 2017
Conventional wisdom regarding regulators is that the structure and design of the organization matters for policy outcomes. Financial regulators conduct rulemaking and enforcement to implement law and supervise financial institutions. These agencies have been given certain characteristics that enhance their day-to-day independence from the President and Congress, which may make policymaking more technical and less “political” or “partisan,” for better or worse. Independence may also make regulators less accountable to elected officials and can reduce congressional influence, at least in the short term.
[PDF format, 32 pages, 811.45 MB].