Federal Election Commission: Membership and Policymaking Quorum, In Brief

Federal Election Commission: Membership and Policymaking Quorum, In Brief. Congressional Research Service. R. Sam Garrett.  Updated September 5, 2019

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is the nation’s civil campaign finance regulator. The agency ensures that campaign fundraising and spending is publicly reported; that those regulated by the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and by commission regulations comply and have access to guidance; and that publicly financed presidential campaigns receive funding.  As of August 31, 2019, the Federal Election Commission is operating without a policymaking quorum. FECA requires that at least four of six commissioners agree to undertake many of the agency’s key policymaking duties. As of August 31, 2019, three of six commissioners remain in office, after the fourth remaining commissioner resigned. Also as of this writing, one commission nomination is pending in the Senate.  This CRS report briefly explains the kinds of actions that FECA precludes when a quorum is not possible because fewer than four FEC members are in office. This episode marks the second quorum loss in the agency’s history—the first occurred for six months in 2008—leaving the commission unable to hold hearings, issue rules, and enforce campaign finance law and regulation. The agency remains open for business with remaining commissioners and regular staff, but new policy decisions and enforcement actions cannot be advanced or finalized.

[PDF format, 11 pages].

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The National Trails System: A Brief Overview

The National Trails System: A Brief Overview.  Congressional Research Service. Mark K. DeSantis, Sandra L. Johnson. Updated June 10, 2019

The National Trails System was created in 1968 by the National Trails System Act (16 U.S.C. §§1241-1251). The system includes four types of trails: (1) national scenic trails (NSTs), which display significant physical characteristics of U.S. regions; (2) national historic trails (NHTs), which follow travel routes of national historical significance; (3) national recreation trails (NRTs), which provide outdoor recreation accessible to urban areas; and (4) connecting or side trails, which provide access to the other types of trails. As defined in the act, NSTs and NHTs are longdistance trails designated by acts of Congress. NRTs and connecting and side trails may be designated by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture with the consent of the federal agency, state, or political subdivision with jurisdiction over the lands involved. 

[PDF format, 17 pages].

Emergency Assistance for Agricultural Land Rehabilitation

Emergency Assistance for Agricultural Land Rehabilitation. Congressional Research Service. Megan Stubbs. Updated June 11, 2019

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers several permanently authorized programs to help producers recover from natural disasters. Most of these programs offer financial assistance to producers for a loss in the production of crops or livestock. In addition to the production assistance programs, USDA also has several permanent disaster assistance programs that help producers repair damaged crop and forest land following natural disasters. These programs offer financial and technical assistance to producers to repair, restore, and mitigate damage on private land. These emergency agricultural land assistance programs include the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP), the Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP), and the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program. In addition to these programs, USDA also has flexibility in administering other programs that allow for support and repair of damaged cropland in the event of an emergency.

[PDF format, 17 pages].

Resolving Legislative Differences in Congress: Conference Committees and Amendments Between the Houses

Resolving Legislative Differences in Congress: Conference Committees and Amendments Between the Houses.  Congressional Research Service. Elizabeth Rybicki. Updated May 22, 2019

The Constitution requires that the House and Senate approve the same bill or joint resolution in precisely the same form before it is presented to the President for his signature or veto. To this end, both houses must pass the same measure and then attempt to reach agreement about its provisions. The House and Senate may be able to reach agreement by an exchange of amendments between the houses. Each house has one opportunity to amend the amendments from the other house, so there can be Senate amendments to House amendments to Senate amendments to a House bill. House amendments to Senate bills or amendments are privileged for consideration on the Senate floor; Senate amendments to House bills or amendments generally are not privileged for consideration on the House floor. In practice, the House often disposes of amendments between the houses under the terms of a special rule reported by the Rules Committee. The Senate sometimes disposes of House amendments by unanimous consent, but the procedures associated with the exchange of amendments can become complicated.

[PDF format, 35 pages].

Farm Policy: USDA’s 2018 Trade Aid Package

Farm Policy: USDA’s 2018 Trade Aid Package. Congressional Research Service. Randy Schnepf et al. June 19, 2019

On early 2018, the Trump Administration—citing concerns over national security and unfair trade practices—imposed increased tariffs on certain imported products in general and on U.S. imports from China in particular. Several of the affected foreign trading partners (including China) responded to the U.S. tariffs with their own retaliatory tariffs targeting various U.S. products, especially agricultural commodities. 

On July 24, 2018, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would be taking several temporary 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 financial assistance—referred to as a trade aid package—for certain agricultural commodities using Section 5 of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) Charter Act (15 U.S.C. 714c). USDA intends for the trade aid package to provide short-term assistance in response to the ongoing trade disputes. However, the Secretary stated that there would not be further trade-related financial assistance beyond this $12 billion package. The aid package includes (1) a Market Facilitation Program (MFP) of direct payments (valued at up to $10 billion) to producers of soybeans, corn, cotton, sorghum, wheat, hogs, and dairy who are most affected by the trade retaliation (sweet cherries and almonds were added to this list in September); (2) a Food Purchase and Distribution Program to partially offset lost export sales of affected commodities ($1.2 billion); and (3) an Agricultural Trade Promotion (ATP) Program to expand foreign markets ($200 million). 

[PDF format, 21 pages].

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission: Overview and Selected Issues for Congress

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission: Overview and Selected Issues for Congress. Congressional Research Service. Karen L. Shanton. June 14, 2019

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is an independent federal agency charged with helping improve the administration of federal elections. It was established by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA; P.L. 107-252; 116 Stat. 1666; 52 U.S.C. §§20901-21145) and includes a four-member commission, a professional staff, an inspector general, and three advisory bodies.

The EAC—and the legislation that created it—marked a shift in the federal approach to election administration. Congress had set requirements for the conduct of elections before HAVA, but HAVA was the first federal election administration legislation also to back its requirements with substantial federal support. In addition to setting new types of requirements, it provided federal funding to help states meet those requirements and facilitate other improvements to election administration and created a dedicated federal agency—the EAC—to manage election administration funding and collect and share election administration information.

[PDF format, 30 pages].

Social Security: The Trust Funds

Social Security: The Trust Funds. Congressional Research Service. Barry F. Huston. Updated May 8, 2019

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 2034, whereas the DI fund will remain solvent until 2052, meaning that each trust fund is projected to be able to pay benefits scheduled under current law in full and on time up to that point. Following the depletion of trust fund reserves (2052 for DI and 2034 for OASI), continuing income to each fund is projected to cover 91% of DI scheduled benefits and 77% 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 2035. Following depletion of combined trust fund reserves at that point, continuing income is projected to cover 80% of scheduled benefits. 

[PDF format, 21 pages].