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 Collection: Congressional Research Service Reports
Flood Insurance Requirements for Stafford Act Assistance
The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the Stafford Act) imposes flood insurance requirements upon eligibility for disaster assistance in two general cases: (1) if the entity seeking disaster assistance has received disaster assistance in the past, or (2) if the entity seeking disaster assistance is a state or local government or private nonprofit located in a federally designated special flood hazard area (SFHA) as determined under the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968. The requirements imposed by the Stafford Act operate independently of each other, and a potential applicant for disaster assistance may fall into both categories. This report will discuss the specific requirements imposed in each situation after briefly discussing the history of flood insurance and the relevant types of disaster assistance.
Payment Card Interchange Fees: An Economic Assessment
This report focuses on the Visa and MasterCard card associations, which account for three-fourths of the payment card market in the United States in 2008. The report begins with a discussion of the nontraditional structure of the payment card market. The next section is an analysis of the problem of the optimum level of payment cards to achieve the highest social welfare benefit for cardholders and merchants. The third section discusses the provisions of the Credit Card Fair Free Act of 2008. The last section discusses some implications of the analysis.
H.R. 6076: Home Retention and Economic Stabilization Act of 2008
The Home Retention and Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 would defer foreclosure for eligible mortgage borrowers for up to 270 days. If passed, the bill would give extra time to some borrowers and lenders to consider alternatives to foreclosure, including traditional loss mitigation and participation in the new Federal Housing Administration (FHA) program for refinancing troubled loans. Some policymakers believe that a moratorium on foreclosures could help stabilize housing markets and alleviate problems from the subprime financial turmoil. This report explores this issue in detail and analyzes the individual aspects of the relevant legislation.
Monetary Policy and the Federal Reserve: Current Policy and Conditions
This report discusses two of the four major responsibilities of the Federal Reserve (Fed) as the nation's central bank: execution of monetary policy and ensuring financial stability through the lender of last resort function. This report provides an overview of these mandates and activities, recent developments, and the role of Congressional oversight.
Tax Credit Bonds: A Brief Explanation
This report provides a brief explanation on tax credit bonds (TCBs). The first section of this report examines the mechanics of TCBs in more detail. The second section of this report analyzes the market for TCBs relative to municipal and corporate bonds.
Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008
This report discusses the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, P.L. 110-289, which changes many laws affecting both the housing and mortgage markets. It also surveys the most important changes caused by the act.
Tax Expenditures and the Federal Budget
This report discusses tax expenditures, the federal budget and the reform of the federal tax system and provides tax expenditure analysis. The perception that the federal tax system is too complex and unfair could lead to public support for tax reform. Past efforts to reform the federal tax system have included policies to rein in the use and expense of tax expenditures--the special deductions, exclusions, exemptions, and credits resulting in revenue losses.
Comparing Global Influence: China's and U.S. Diplomacy, Foreign Aid, Trade, and Investment in the Developing World
This report compares the People's Republic of China's (PRC) and U.S. projections of global influence, with an emphasis on non-coercive means or "soft power," and suggests ways to think about U.S. foreign policy options in light of China's emergence.
Foreign Direct Investment in the United States: An Economic Analysis
Foreign direct investment in the United States1 declined sharply after 2000, when a record $300 billion was invested in U.S. businesses and real estate. In 2007, according to Department of Commerce data, foreigners invested $237 billion. Foreign direct investments are highly sought after by many State and local governments that are struggling to create additional jobs in their localities. While some in Congress encourage such investment to offset the perceived negative economic effects of U.S. firms investing abroad, others are concerned about foreign acquisitions of U.S. firms that are considered essential to U.S. national and economic security.
U.S. Direct Investment Abroad: Trends and Current Issues
The United States is the largest investor abroad and the largest recipient of direct investment in the world. Some observers believe U.S. firms invest abroad to avoid U.S. labor unions or high U.S. wages, however, 70% of U.S. foreign direct investment is concentrated in high income developed countries. Even more striking is the fact that the share of investment going to developing countries has fallen in recent years. Most economists conclude that direct investment abroad does not lead to fewer jobs or lower incomes overall for Americans and that the majority of jobs lost among U.S. manufacturing firms over the past decade reflect a broad restructuring of U.S. manufacturing industries.
Multilateral Development Banks: U.S. Contributions FY1998-2009
This report shows in tabular form how much the Administration requested and how much Congress appropriated during the past 11 years for U.S. payments to the multilateral development banks (MDBs). It also provides a brief description of the MDBs and the ways they fund their operations. It will be updated periodically. Three companion reports provide further information on the MDBs. See CRS Report RS20793, Multilateral Development Banks: Basic Background, CRS Report RS20791, Multilateral Development Banks: Procedures for U.S. Participation, and CRS Report RS22134 International Financial Institutions: Funding U.S. Participation.
Reforming the Regulation of Government-Sponsored Enterprises in the 110th Congress
This report provides background on the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), discusses reform issues, and summarizes the provisions of House- and Senate-passed versions of H.R. 3221.
Campus-Based Student Financial Aid Programs Under the Higher Education Act
This report begins by providing a brief description of each of the campus-based programs, including the terms under which financial aid is awarded to students and the procedures under which federal funds are allocated to institutions for that purpose. It then provides historical information on federal funds appropriated for each of the programs, an analysis of the number and types of students served, and selected program statistics. It concludes with a discussion of amendments to the campus-based programs proposed in S. 1642 and H.R. 4137.
Credit Default Swaps: Frequently Asked Questions
Credit default swaps are contracts that provide protection against default by third parties, similar to insurance. These financial derivatives are used by banks and other financial institutions to manage risk. The rapid growth of the derivatives market, the potential for widespread credit defaults (such as defaults for subprime mortgages), and operational problems in the over-the-counter (OTC) market where credit default swaps are traded, have led some policymakers to inquire if credit default swaps are a danger to the financial system and the economy. This report defines credit default swaps, explains their use by banks for risk management, and discusses the potential for systemic risk.
Islamic Finance: Overview and Policy Concerns
The international market for Islamic finance has grown between 10% to 15% annually in recent years. Islamic finance historically has been concentrated in the Persian Gulf countries, but has expanded globally to both Muslim and non-Muslim countries. There is a small but growing market for Islamic finance in the United States. Through international and domestic regulatory bodies, there has been effort to standardize regulations in Islamic finance across different countries and financial institutions, although challenges remain. Critics of Islamic finance express concerns about possible ties between Islamic finance and political agendas or terrorist financing and the use of Islamic finance to circumvent U.S. economic sanctions. Proponents argue that Islamic finance presents significant new business opportunities and provides alternate methods for capital formation and economic development.
The Future Role of U.S. Trade Policy: An Overview
The United States has become increasingly integrated with the rest of the world economy. This integration has offered benefits and presented challenges to U.S. business, agriculture, labor, and consumers. Those who can compete in the more integrated economy have enjoyed opportunities to broaden their success, while those who are challenged by increased foreign competition have been forced to adjust and some have exited the market or relocated overseas. Some observers contend that, in order to remain globally competitive, the United States must continue to support trade liberalization policies, while assisting those hurt by trade. Others have raised doubts over whether free trade policies benefit the U.S. economy. This report provides an overview and background on the debate over the future course of U.S. trade policy.
The United States as a Net Debtor Nation: Overview of the International Investment Position
This report provides an overview of international investing patterns and impacts, and ends with considerations on this topic for Congress.
China's "Hot Money" Problems
China has experienced a sharp rise in the inflow of so-called "hot money," foreign capital entering the country supposedly seeking short-term profits, especially in 2008. Chinese estimates of the amount of "hot money" in China vary from $500 billion to $1.75 trillion. The influx of "hot money" is contributing to China's already existing problems with inflation. Efforts to reduce the inflationary effects of "hot money" may accelerate the inflow, while actions to reduce the inflow of "hot money" may threaten China's economic growth, as well as have negative consequences for the U.S. and global economy.
Campaign Finance Law and the Constitutionality of the "Millionaire's Amendment": An Analysis of Davis v. Federal Election Commission
In a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), also known as the McCain-Feingold law, establishing increased contribution limits for congressional candidates whose opponents significantly self-finance their campaigns. This provision is frequently referred to as the "Millionaire's Amendment." The Court found that the burden imposed on expenditures of personal funds is not justified by the compelling governmental interest of lessening corruption or the appearance of corruption and, therefore, held that the law is unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment.
The Depreciating Dollar: Economic Effects and Policy Response
This report addresses the concern about the health of the U.S. economy regarding the depreciation of the dollar and examines the likely reasons for the dollar's fall, the effects the depreciating currency could have on the economy, and possible policy responses that could be considered to attempt to alter the dollar's path if needed.
Community Development Block Grants: Legislative Proposals to Assist Communities Affected by Home Foreclosures
In response to the rising number of home mortgage foreclosures, several bills have been introduced during the 110th Congress that would provide additional federal assistance to state and local governments with high concentrations of foreclosed homes, subprime mortgage loans, and delinquent home mortgages. At least one of these proposals, H.R. 3221, as passed by the Senate, includes provisions that would use the framework of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program to channel an additional $4 billion in assistance to state and local governments. This provision faces an uncertain future; objections to it have been raised by the Bush Administration and others, contending that the assistance will result in the rescue of lenders and speculators.
Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's Financial Problems: Frequently Asked Questions
Recent turmoil in the housing and financial markets have caused concern over the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are chartered by Congress as government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) and are widely believed to have an implicit guarantee from the federal government. The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) -- the GSEs safety and soundness regulator -- has repeated assurances that Fannie and Freddie have adequate capital, but as highly leveraged financial intermediaries, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have limited resources against losses. This report analyzes various aspects of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in relation to the financial turmoil that began in September 2008.
Highway Bridges: Conditions and the Federal/State Role
This report examines the federal and state roles in the maintenance, inspection, reconstruction, and replacement of the nation's highway bridge infrastructure, as well as the emergency response and reconstruction role of the Department of Transportation (DOT). The report first describes what is known about the condition of the nation's bridges and whether the problem of structural deficiency is improving or worsening. It then briefly describes the programmatic and budgetary context, including federal efforts to reduce the number of deficient bridges, and examines highway bridge spending. The report discusses issues Congress is facing face in light of the I-35W bridge collapse and the emergence of questions about the appropriateness and effectiveness of related federal infrastructure policies, programs, and spending. Finally, the report describes a number of legislative initiatives that have been proposed.
Primer on Energy Derivatives and Their Regulation
Prices of oil and other energy commodities are set in futures and derivatives markets, where producers, commercial users, and financial speculators buy and sell contracts whose value is linked to the price of the underlying commodity. Trading occurs on regulated futures exchanges and in a largely unregulated over-the-counter (OTC) market; both forms of trading are global in scope. This report presents basic information about these markets, the instruments traded, the regulatory framework, speculation, and current legislative proposals.
Foreign Direct Investment: Current Issues
This report presents an overview of current issues related to foreign direct investment in the economy and the development of U.S. policy toward inward and outward direct investment. This report also assesses the role of foreign direct investment in the economy and the costs and benefits of direct investment.
Foreign Investment in U.S. Securities
This report analyzes the extent of foreign portfolio investment in the U.S. economy and assesses the economic conditions that are attracting such investment and the impact such investments are having on the economy.
The Future Role of U.S. Trade Policy: An Overview
The United States has become increasingly integrated with the rest of the world economy. This integration has offered benefits and presented challenges to U.S. business, agriculture, labor, and consumers. Those who can compete in the more integrated economy have enjoyed opportunities to broaden their success, while those who are challenged by increased foreign competition have been forced to adjust and some have exited the market or relocated overseas. Some observers contend that, in order to remain globally competitive, the United States must continue to support trade liberalization policies, while assisting those hurt by trade. Others have raised doubts over whether free trade policies benefit the U.S. economy. This report provides an overview and background on the debate over the future course of U.S. trade policy.
Public-Private Partnerships in Highway and Transit Infrastructure Provision
This report begins with a brief discussion of the surface transportation system and its financing needs as background to the debate on public-private partnerships (PPPs). That is followed by sections describing the different types of PPPs, with details of a few prominent examples, and the development of federal legislation with respect to PPPs. The report then discusses the main issues of contention with the construction and longterm leasing of highways by the private sector, particularly as they relate to the funding, planning, and operation of the surface transportation system, before providing some policy options Congress may wish to consider.
The Enron Loophole
The Commodity Exchange Act exempts certain energy derivatives contracts from regulation by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). These exemptions are popularly known as the "Enron loophole." Soaring energy prices have raised concerns about whether the CFTC has enough information about these unregulated markets to monitor energy trading in a comprehensive manner. A number of other bills in the 110th Congress would impose new reporting or regulatory requirements on the bilateral energy swaps market, which was not addressed by the Farm Bill.
Foreign Ownership of U.S. Financial Assets: Implications of a Withdrawal
This report provides an overview of the role foreign investment plays in the U.S. economy. It also includes an assessment of possible actions a foreign investor or a group of foreign investors might choose to take to liquidate their investments in the United States.
Agricultural Disaster Assistance
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers several permanently authorized programs to help farmers recover financially from a natural disaster, including federal crop insurance, the noninsured assistance program (NAP), and emergency disaster loans. This report outlines the various agricultural disaster assistance appropriations included in the FY2007 Iraq war supplemental appropriations act; the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008; the 2008 farm bill; and the FY2008 Supplemental Appropriations Act.
GAO: Government Accountability Office and General Accounting Office
This report discusses the General Accounting Office (GAO), established in 1921 by the Budget and Accounting Act as an independent auditor of government agencies and activities.
Reforming the Regulation of Government-Sponsored Enterprises in the 110th Congress
This report provides background on the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) reform issue, summarizes the provisions of H.R. 3221 and the Senate Banking Committee bill.
Foreign Investment and National Security: Economic Considerations
This report assesses recent international developments as the leaders from a number of nations work to reach a consensus on an informal set of best practices regarding national restrictions on foreign investment for national security purposes. This report also provides one possible approach for assessing the costs and benefits involved in using national policies to direct, or to restrict, foreign direct investment for national security reasons.
Social Security Administration: Administrative Budget Issues
The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers the Social Security program (Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance, or OASDI) and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, and provides administrative support to Medicare and several other federal programs. Total SSA spending in FY2007 was about $624 billion, about 99% of which was mandatory spending on benefit payments. This report focuses on SSA’s spending for administrative expenses, which is discretionary and amounts to about 1% of SSA’s total spending. This funding is provided in the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill.
China's Currency: Economic Issues and Options for U.S. Trade Policy
This paper reviews the various economic issues raised by China's present currency policy, including: the economic concerns raised by the United States over China's currency policy and China's concerns over changing that policy; how China's fixed exchange rate regime works and the various economic studies that have attempted to determine China's real, or market, exchange rate; trends and factors in the U.S.-China trade imbalance; economic consequences of China's currency policy for both China and the United States; China's massive accumulation of foreign exchange reserves and purchases of U.S. federal debt instruments; and policy options on how the United States might induce China to reform its present currency policy, including current legislation introduced in Congress.
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation: Background and Legislative Issues
This report outlines challenges faced by Tajikistan since its five-year civil war ended in 1997. It discusses U.S. policy and assistance. Basic facts and biographical information are provided. This report may be updated. Related products include CRS Report RL33458, Central Asia: Regional Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests, updated regularly.
U.S. Taxation of Overseas Investment and Income: Background and Issues
This report analyzes how the current U.S. tax system applies to foreign investment undertaken by U.S. firms abroad, and how that application was changed by recent legislation. It also assesses the impact of the tax system and legislation, and concludes by discussing a variety of issues in international taxation that Congress may face in 2008 and beyond. It begins with a brief examination of the data on international investment.
Regulation of Energy Derivatives
After the collapse of Enron Corp. in late 2001, that company's activities came under intense scrutiny. Much of its business consisted of trading financial contracts whose value was derived from changes in energy prices. Enron's derivatives trading was largely "over-the-counter" (OTC) and unregulated: little information about transactions was available. This incident has sparked interest in reform of energy derivatives regulation. This report summarizes energy derivatives regulation and proposed legislation.
China's Currency: A Summary of the Economic Issues
Many Members of Congress charge that China's policy of accumulating foreign reserves (especially U.S. dollars) to influence the value of its currency constitutes a form of currency manipulation intended to make its exports cheaper and imports into China more expensive than they would be under free market conditions. Although China made modest reforms to its currency policy in 2005, Members contend the forms have not gone far enough and have warned of potential legislative action. This report summarizes the main findings CRS Report RL32165, China's Currency: Economic Issues and Options for U.S. Trade Policy.
Currency Manipulation: The IMF and WTO
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Trade Organization (WTO) approach the issue of "currency manipulation" differently. The IMF Articles of Agreement prohibit countries from manipulating their currency for the purpose of gaining unfair trade advantage, but the IMF cannot force a country to change its exchange rate policies. The WTO has rules against subsidies, but these are very narrow and specific and do not seem to encompass currency manipulation. Several options might be considered for addressing this matter in the future, if policymakers deem this a wise course of action.
Dollar Crisis: Prospect and Implications
This report describes the anatomy of dollar crisis, and possible reasons why a dollar crisis won't occur. The report discusses the macroeconomics effects of a dollar crisis, and the response of economic policy.
China's Sovereign Wealth Fund
This report discusses China's ruling executive body, the State Council, which establishes the China Investment Corporation (CIC), a sovereign wealth fund, in September 2007 to invest $200 billion of China's then $1.4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves. Congress and financial analysts raised concerns about the CIC after its creation, partly because it was a comparatively large sovereign wealth fund, partly because it was government-owned, and partly because it reported directly to the State Council.
The Pattern of Interest Rates: Does it Signal an Impending Recession?
The cyclical behavior of the economy is of great interest to Congress, yet the onset of an economic downturn is seldom recognized promptly. Policymakers frequently search for reliable recession predictors. The behavior of interest rates may provide advanced warning of an impending downturn. The easing of monetary policy in evidence since September 2007 is consistent with efforts to forestall or minimize an economic downturn. Economic growth has been low since the last quarter of 2007, and some forecasters are now predicting a recession in 2008.
The Single European Payments Area (SEPA): Implementation Delays and Implications for the United States
This report presents a brief background on the efforts to create the Single European Payments Area (SEPA) by the European government and the banking industry. It assesses the current electronic payments systems from the wholesale (large value) level and the retail (small value) level of payments. The report then examines the attempts to develop the pan- European automated clearinghouse system (PEACH).
Monetary Policy and the Federal Reserve: Current Policy and Conditions
Monetary policy can be defined as any policy relating to the supply of money. Since the agency concerned with the supply of money is the nation’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, monetary policy can also be defined in terms of the directives, policies, statements, and actions of the Federal Reserve, particularly those from its Board of Governors that have an effect on national spending. This report discusses current issues regarding monetary policy.
HUD Proposes Administrative Modifications to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act
This report focuses on borrower disclosure, particularly with respect to making all pertinent information about loan terms and settlement costs transparent, so that consumers can make well-informed financial decisions when choosing mortgage products.
The Exon-Florio National Security Test for Foreign Investment
This report covers the recent background of the Exon-Florio provision with special regards to issues faced in the 112th Congress. The Exon-Florio provision grants the President the authority to block proposed or pending foreign acquisitions of "persons engaged in interstate commerce in the United States" that threaten to impair the national security.
The Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative
In Juen 2005, G8 finance ministers proposed the new Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI). The MDRI proposes to cancel debts of some of the world's poorest countries owed to the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and African Development Bank. This report discusses MDRI's implementation and raises some issues regarding debt relief's effectiveness as a form of foreign assistance for possible congressional consideration.
China's Holdings of U.S. Securities: Implications for the U.S. Economy
This report examines the importance to the U.S. economy of China's investment in U.S. securities, as well as U.S. concerns over the possibility that China might unload a large share of those holdings, including the likelihood that this would occur, and the potential implications such action could have for the U.S. economy. The report concludes that a large sell-off of Chinese Treasury securities holdings could negatively affect the U.S. economy, at least in the short-run. As a result, such a move could diminish U.S. demand for Chinese products and thus could lower China's economic growth as well.