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].
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].
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. 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
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. 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
[PDF format, 21 pages].
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].
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].