Congressional Research Service Reports - Browse

U.S. Trade Deficit and the Impact of Rising Oil Prices
Petroleum prices rose sharply in the first half of 2008, at one time reaching more than $140 per barrel of crude oil. Since July, however, petroleum prices and import volumes have fallen at a historically rapid pace; in November, prices of crude oil fell below $55 per barrel. The fall in the cost of energy imports combined with the drop in import volumes as a result of the slowdown in economic activity has reversed the trend of rising energy imports costs and will sharply reduce the overall costs of U.S. energy imports for the rest of 2008. This report provides an estimate of the initial impact of the rising oil prices on the nation's merchandise trade deficit.
The U.S. Financial Crisis: The Global Dimension with Implications for U.S. Policy
This report examines the global impact of the financial crisis and resulting challenges, moving forward. The crisis exposed fundamental weaknesses in financial systems worldwide, and despite coordinated easing of monetary policy by governments and trillions of dollars in intervention by governments and the International Monetary Fund, the crisis continues.
Pakistan's Capital Crisis: Implications for U.S. Policy
Pakistan - a key U.S. ally in global efforts to combat Islamist militancy - is in urgent need of an estimated $4 billion in capital to avoid defaulting on its sovereign debt. The elected government of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani is seeking short-term financial assistance from a number of sources, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), China, and an informal group of nations (including the United States) known as the "Friends of Pakistan." The current crisis has placed some strain on U.S.-Pakistan relations.
Russia's Economic Performance and Policies and Their Implications for the United States
This report discusses the Russian economy, which has grown impressively since 1999 and, by some measures, has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The improvement in the Russian economy is arguably a factor in the boldness with which the Putin leadership has reasserted Russia's status as a world power.
The Global Financial Crisis: The Role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
This report discusses two potential roles the International Monetary Fund (IMF) may have in helping to resolve the current global financial crisis: (1) immediate crisis control through balance of payments lending to emerging market and less-developed countries and (2) increased surveillance of the global economy through better coordination with the international financial regulatory agencies.
Federal Reserve Interest Rate Changes: 2001-2008
The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) decided at its scheduled meeting held on October 29 to lower the target rate for federal funds to 1% from 1½% set at its unscheduled meeting of October 8, 2008. In making its decision to reduce the target, the FOMC stressed the following factors: (1) the pace of economic growth appears to have slowed markedly owing importantly to a softening of consumer spending; (2) business equipment spending and industrial production have weakened; (3) economic slowdowns abroad have dampened the prospects for U.S. exports; (4) intensified strains in financial markets are also likely to further reduce spending; and (5) inflation prospects have improved due to declines in energy and other commodity prices. The next schedule meeting of the FOMC is set for December 11, 2008.
The Global Financial Crisis: The Role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
This report discusses two potential roles the International Monetary Fund (IMF) may have in helping to resolve the current global financial crisis: (1) immediate crisis control through balance of payments lending to emerging market and less-developed countries and (2) increased surveillance of the global economy through better coordination with the international financial regulatory agencies.
Reporting Issues Under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act
This report describes current issues and recent changes to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) of 1975. The report also provides a brief explanation of how recent reporting revisions may affect the reporting of loans covered by the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act of 1994 and the Federal Housing Administration.
Annuities and the Securities and Exchange Commission Proposed Rule 151A
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently released a proposed rule that would effectively reclassify equity indexed annuities as a security product in addition to being an insurance product. This report presents the different types of annuities, explains the taxation of annuities, and disentangles the federal and state roles in the regulation of annuities. It outlines the proposed SEC rule and its current status.
Social Security: Calculation and History of Taxing Benefits
This report discusses the Social Security system that provides monthly benefits to qualified retirees, disabled workers, and their spouses and dependents.
Ebbs and Flows of Federal Debt
This report will define the measures of debt, discuss the mechanisms of how debt levels change, and use historical examples to illustrate the factors causing debt movements over the last seven decades. In addition, some policies which may affect the future budgetary outlook and the debt will be discussed.
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation: Background and Legislative Issues
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)1 was established in 1969 and began operations in 1971 to promote and assist U.S. business investment in developing nations. OPIC is a U.S. government agency that provides project financing, investment insurance, and other services for U.S. businesses in 154 developing nations and emerging economies. OPIC is currently authorized through March 9, 2009 under the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009 (P.L. 110-329).
U.S. International Trade: Trends and Forecasts
This report provides an overview of the current status, trends, and forecasts for U.S. international trade. The purpose of this report is to provide current data and brief explanations for the various types of trade flows, particularly U.S. exports, along with a short discussion of particular trends and points of contention related to trade policy.
U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians
In response to ongoing financial turmoil that began in the subprime mortgage-backed securities market, the federal government has intervened with private corporations on a large scale and in an ad hoc manner three times from the beginning of 2008 through September 19, 2008. These interventions have prompted questions regarding the taxpayer costs and the sources of funding. The federal government may or may not end up seeing a positive fiscal contribution from the recent interventions. The results of previous government financial interventions are summarized in this report.
Auction Basics: Background for Assessing Proposed Treasury Purchases of Mortgage- Backed Securities
This report discusses the administrations' proposal to use reverse Dutch auctions to purchase troubled assets -- primarily mortgage-related securities from financial institutions.
The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act's Insurance for Troubled Assets
Many observers trace the root cause of recent instability in financial markets to uncertainty surrounding the value of widely held securities that are based on mortgages and mortgage-related assets. The introduction of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA) was designed to address said financial instability through a variety of measures, including an insurance program for "troubled assets." This report briefly summarizes and analyzes the insurance program contained in the enacted version of the EESA.
Financial Turmoil: Comparing the Troubled Asset Relief Program to the Federal Reserve's Response
As financial conditions have deteriorated over the past year, the Federal Reserve (FeD) has greatly increased its lending to financial firms. It has also expanded the scope of eligible borrowers to include non-bank financial firms. Some have asked why these loans have not restored financial stability, and if the purchase of up to $700 billion of distressed assets through the recently enacted Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) might lead to a different result. Financial assistance to financial firms entails considerable risks to taxpayers. This report analyzes the risks and possible benefits of federally-assisted loans to banks and financial firms, especially in light of the financial crisis that came to a head in September 2008.
Tax Gap: Proposals in the 110th Congress to Require Brokers to Report Basis on Publicly Traded Securities
Recent and projected large deficits and the need for revenue to offset spending or tax reduction proposals generated congressional and executive branch interest in different proposals to reduce the tax gap; and consequently, raise additional revenue. Proposals in the 110th Congress to require brokers to report adjusted basis on publicly traded securities sold by individuals are examined in this report.
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.
Iraq's Debt Relief: Procedure and Potential Implications for International Debt Relief
This report discusses the Iraqi debt problem in three parts: [1] overview of the Iraq debt situation following the ouster of the Saddam regime; [2] subsequent debt relief negotiations and their resolution; [3] possible implications for future debt relief cases that arise from Iraq's experience. The implications are: a willingness by the international community to grant a stay on the enforcement of creditor rights; an increased flexibility in Paris Club debt relief decisions; and an unwillingness by successor regimes to claim that their debt is odious and repudiate it.
Financial Market Intervention
Financial markets continue to experience significant disturbance and the banking sector remains fragile. Efforts to restore confidence have been met with mixed success thus far. After attempting to deal with troubled institutions on a case-by-case basis, Treasury has proposed a plan to purchase mortgage-related assets to alleviate stress in financial markets and in the banking system. This report provides answers to some frequently asked questions concerning the financial disruptions of September 2008 and the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in H.R. 3997.
The U.S. Financial Crisis: Lessons from Chile
From 1981-1984, Chile experienced a banking crisis that in relative terms had a cost comparable in size to that perhaps facing the United States today. The Chilean Central Bank acted quickly and decisively in three ways to restore faith in the credit markets. It restructured firm and household loans, purchased nonperforming loans temporarily, and facilitated the sale or liquidation of insolvent financial institutions. These three measures increased liquidity in the credit markets and restored the balance sheets of the viable financial institutions. This report explores this incident in detail and in relation to the current financial situation in the U.S.
The U.S. Financial Crisis: Lessons from Japan
Japan's five bank bailout packages in the late 1990s may hold some lessons for the United States. Overcoming the crisis in Japan's banks took a combination of capital injections, new laws and regulations, stronger oversight, a reorganization of the banking sector, moderate economic recovery, and several years of banks working off their non-performing loans.
The U.S. Financial Crisis: Lessons from Sweden
In the early 1990s, Sweden faced a large banking and exchange rate crisis which it eventually resolved. Four lessons that emerged from Sweden's experience are: 1) the resolution process must be transparent; 2) the resolution agency must be politically and financially independent; 3) market discipline must be maintained; and 4) there must be a plan to jump-start credit flows in the financial system. This report provides an overview of the Swedish banking crisis and an explanation of the measures Sweden used to restore its banking system to health.
The Resolution Trust Corporation: Historical Analysis
In a 1989 legislative response to financial troubles in the thrift industry, the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA, P.L. 101-73) was enacted. FIRREA's principal mission was to conduct a partially tax-payer funded program to address the troubles of the nation's many insolvent thrifts. To do so, it established a new entity, the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC), whose mission was to address troubled thrifts by arranging their sale to other institutions or shuttering them and disposing of their assets. This report analyzes the creation and functions of the RTC, including criticisms and results of its actions.
Statutory Offices of Inspector General: Past and Present
Statutory offices of inspector general (OIG) consolidate responsibility for audits and investigations within a federal agency. Established by public law as permanent, nonpartisan, independent offices, they now exist in more than 60 establishments and entities, including all departments and largest agencies, along with numerous boards and commissions. Various initiatives and proposals in the 110th Congress are designed to strengthen the IGs' independence, add to their reports, and create new posts in the Intelligence Community.
The Cost of Government Financial Interventions, Past and Present
In response to ongoing financial turmoil that began in the subprime mortgage-backed securities market, the federal government has intervened with private corporations on a large scale and in an ad hoc manner three times from the beginning of 2008 through September 19, 2008. These interventions have prompted questions regarding the taxpayer costs and the sources of funding. The federal government may or may not end up seeing a positive fiscal contribution from the recent interventions. The results of previous government financial interventions are summarized in this report.
Proposal to Allow Treasury to Buy Mortgage-Related Assets to Address Financial Instability
Financial markets underwent severe stress during the week of September 15 - 22, 2008. After Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy and AIG received a bridge loan from the Federal Reserve, policymakers reassessed their case-by-case approach to resolving financial problems. Secretary of the Treasury Paulson announced a plan to allow Treasury to purchase mortgage-related assets from U.S. financial institutions. The announced intent of the plan is to unclog financial markets, increase the health of the banking sector, and reduce ongoing risks to the economy. This report discusses a draft of the proposal as it stood on September 21, 2008, and analyzes frequently asked questions.
National Flood Insurance Program: Treasury Borrowing in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
In 2008, Hurricanes Ike, Gustav, and Dolly made landfall in the United States, causing widespread flood damage. Exactly three years earlier, claims and expenses related to the massive flooding caused by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma had financially overwhelmed the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that the NFIP will need about $3 billion in additional borrowing authority to cover the claims currently outstanding and a yet to be determined amount for the 2008 Hurricanes. Congress is currently working to reform the NFIP while retaining its original intent to keep rates affordable for people to buy the insurance.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in Conservatorship
On September 7, 2008, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) placed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) that play a critical play in the U.S. home mortgage market, in conservatorship. As conservator, the FHFA has full powers to control the assets and operation of the firms. Dividends to common and preferred shareholders are suspended, but the U.S. Treasury has put in place a set of financing agreements to ensure that the GSEs continue to meet their obligations to holders of bonds that they have issued or guaranteed. This means that the U.S. taxpayer now stands behind about $5 trillion of GSE debt. This report provides basic information on the GSEs, the government intervention, and the potential cost to the taxpayer.
Economic Analysis of a Mortgage Foreclosure Moratorium
This report discusses the legislation that creates a voluntary program to enable troubled mortgage borrowers and lenders to refinance their loans through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA)
Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's Financial Problems: Frequently Asked Questions
This report discusses the decision to place Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in conservatorship and to a certain extent, the housing, mortgage, and even general financial markets.
Financial Institution Insolvency: Federal Authority over Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Depository Institutions
This report provides an overview of the U.S. credit crunch and its effect on Fannie, Freddie, Banks, and Thrifts. The report discusses the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and insolvent banks and thrifts.
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.