Mandatory Minimum Sentencing, and More from CRS

Mandatory minimum sentencing in drug-related criminal prosecutions has “contributed to an explosion in the federal prison population and attendant costs,” a new report from the Congressional Research Service on the laws of mandatory sentencing observes.

“Thus, the federal inmate population at the end of 1976 was 23,566, and at the end of 1986 it was 36,042. On January 4, 2018, the federal inmate population was 183,493.” The costs incurred by the federal prison system have increased accordingly. See Mandatory Minimum Sentencing of Federal Drug Offenses by CRS Senior Specialist Charles Doyle, January 11, 2018.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Attorney General’s Memorandum on Federal Marijuana Enforcement: Possible ImpactsCRS Legal Sidebar, January 10, 2018

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR): An Overview, updated January 9, 2018

Facing the FACT Act: Abortion and Free Speech (Part I)CRS Legal Sidebar, January 10, 2018

Update: Who’s the Boss at the CFPB?CRS Legal Sidebar, updated January 11, 2018

Venezuela’s Economic Crisis: Issues for Congress, January 10, 2018

Transatlantic Relations in 2018CRS Insight, January 10, 2018

Overview of “Travel Ban” Litigation and Recent DevelopmentsCRS Legal Sidebar, updated January 10, 2018

Iran: Politics, and More from CRS

Has the U.S. adopted a policy of regime change towards Iran? Government officials have sent different signals at different times.

In 2006, President George W. Bush called for a “free and democratic” Iran, which appeared to be an endorsement of regime change.

In 2013, President Obama explicitly disavowed a policy of regime change and referred to the country as the “Islamic Republic of Iran,” its post-revolutionary name, which was understood to convey recognition of the current Iranian leadership.

Most recently, the signals are mixed. “The Trump Administration has not adopted a policy of regime change, but there have been several Administration statements that indicate support for that outcome,” according to a newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service, which also takes note of the recent political protests in Iran. See Iran: Politics, Human Rights, and U.S. Policy, updated January 8, 2018.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy, updated January 8, 2018

The U.S. Export Control System and the Export Control Reform Initiative, updated January 8, 2018

A Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment: Background and Congressional Options, updated January 8, 2018

Monetary Policy and the Federal Reserve: Current Policy and Conditions, updated January 9, 2018

Budget Enforcement Procedures: The Senate Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) Rule, updated January 9, 2018

Smart Toys and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998CRS Legal Sidebar, January 8, 2018

Protecting Consumers and Businesses from Fraudulent Robocalls, January 5, 2018

Drug Compounding: FDA Authority and Possible Issues for Congress, January 5, 2018

Defense Primer: Under Secretary of Defense (Intelligence)CRS In Focus, updated January 3, 2018

Defense Acquisition Reform, and More from CRS

Over the last three years, Congress has sharply increased its legislative activity on defense acquisition reform, with an average of 82 new provisions in this area per year, compared to an average of 47 provisions in the previous decade. “Reform” here often means expanded authority to acquire military goods and services with increased flexibility.

A new report from the Congressional Research Service analyzes and summarizes that recent legislation, which affects contracting, auditing, major defense programs, and many other complicated but important topics. See Acquisition Reform in the FY2016-FY2018 National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAAs), January 4, 2018.

If the National Flood Insurance Program is not reauthorized by Congress prior to January 19, 2018, many of its key provisions will expire. See What Happens If the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Lapses?, CRS Insight, updated January 3, 2018

Other recent reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: FY2018 Budget and Appropriations, updated January 3, 2018

Cyprus: Reunification Proving Elusive, updated January 2, 2018

Serbia: Background and U.S. Relations, updated January 4, 2018

Membership of the 115th Congress: A Profile, updated January 3, 2018

Clean Air Act Issues in the 115th Congress: In Brief, updated January 3, 2018

Military Service Records and Unit Histories: A Guide to Locating Sources, updated January 2, 2018

US Aid to Pakistan, and More from CRS

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years,” President Trump provocatively tweeted yesterday, adding falsely that “they have given us nothing but lies & deceit.”

A breakdown of US aid to Pakistan (excluding covert assistance) was recently provided by the Congressional Research Service. See Direct Overt U.S. Aid Appropriations for and Military Reimbursements to Pakistan, FY2002-FY2018, November 28, 2017.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Qatar: Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated December 27, 2017

Tailoring Bank Regulations: Differences in Bank Size, Activities, and Capital Levels, December 21, 2017

Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC): Structure and Activities, December 22, 2017

The Federal Tax System for the 2017 Tax Year, December 26, 2017

Five-Year Program for Federal Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing: Status and Issues in Brief, updated December 20, 2017

Basic Concepts and Technical Considerations in Educational Assessment: A Primer, December 19, 2017

CRS Products on North Korea, December 28, 2017

The Speech or Debate Clause, and More from CRS

The speech or debate clause of the US Constitution provides Members of Congress (and their staff) with civil and criminal immunity for “legislative acts” that they perform in the course of their duties, shielding them from harassment or intimidation.

The clause is “a key pillar in the American separation of powers” that serves to “protect the independence, integrity, and effectiveness of the legislative branch by barring executive or judicial intrusions into the protected sphere of the legislative process,” as described in a new overview from the Congressional Research Service.

If Members of Congress do not value their deliberative role and do not wish to function as independent actors, the speech and debate clause cannot make them. But it is there to protect them if they do. See Understanding the Speech or Debate Clause, December 1, 2017.

Other new reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following:

Winter Fuels Outlook 2017-2018, December 5, 2017

Bank Systemic Risk Regulation: The $50 Billion Threshold in the Dodd-Frank Act, December 6, 2017

Defining Broadband: Minimum Threshold Speeds and Broadband Policy, December 4, 2017

The Application of the “One Central Reason” Standard in Asylum and Withholding of Removal CasesCRS Legal Sidebar, December 18, 2017

What Happens if H.R. 1 Conflicts with U.S. Tax Treaties?CRS Legal Sidebar, December 19, 2017

The War in Yemen: A Compilation of Legislation in the 115th Congress, December 20, 2017

Reversing Course, DoD Will Retain Cluster Munitions

The Department of Defense last month abandoned a 2008 policy that would have reduced the U.S. inventory of cluster munitions and imposed strict new safety and quality control standards on these anti-personnel weapons, which have been implicated in numerous civilian fatalities.

“We must not lose our qualitative and quantitative competitive advantage against potential adversaries that seek operational and tactical advantages against the United States and its allies and partners,” wrote Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan in a November 30, 2017 memo establishing the new policy. Therefore, “the Department will retain cluster munitions currently in active inventories until the capabilities they provide are replaced with enhanced and more reliable munitions.”

The new DoD policy “essentially reversed the 2008 policy,” according to a newly updated review from the Congressional Research Service.

Where the previous policy issued by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2008 had “established an unwaiverable requirement that cluster munitions used after 2018 must leave less than 1% of unexploded submunitions on the battlefield,” that requirement is no longer operative and no new deadline for reducing associated risks has been set.

“Cluster munitions have been highly criticized internationally for causing a significant number of civilian deaths, and efforts have been undertaken to ban and regulate their use,” CRS wrote.

Furthermore, cluster munitions today may be an anachronism, the CRS report said. “Given current and predicted future precision weaponry trends, cluster munitions might be losing their military relevance–much as chemical weapons did between World War I and World War II.” See Cluster Munitions: Background and Issues for Congress, December 13, 2017.

Other new and updated publications from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Plant and Plutonium Disposition: Management and Policy Issues, updated December 14, 2017

Defense Spending Under an Interim Continuing Resolution: In Brief, updated December 15, 2017

Federal Procurement Law & Natural Disasters, CRS Legal Sidebar, December 14, 2017

The Net Neutrality Debate: Access to Broadband Networks, updated December 14, 2017

The Purple Heart: Background and Issues for Congress, updated December 15, 2017

Non-Immigrant Admissions to the US, and More from CRS

There were 181.3 million foreign nationals who were admitted to the United States on a temporary basis in FY 2016 for reasons such as business or tourism.

A new report from the Congressional Research Service “explains the statutory and regulatory provisions that govern nonimmigrant admissions to the United States [and] describes trends in temporary migration, including changes over time in the number of nonimmigrant visas issued and nonimmigrant admissions.” See Nonimmigrant (Temporary) Admissions to the United States: Policy and Trends, December 8, 2017.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Supreme Court Declines to Take Up Military Commission Challenges — Al Bahlul and Al-Nashiri, CRS Legal Sidebar, December 12, 2017

A Shift in the International Security Environment: Potential Implications for Defense–Issues for Congress, updated December 12, 2017

Venezuela: Background and U.S. Policy, updated December 11, 2017

Jerusalem: U.S. Recognition as Israel’s Capital and Planned Embassy Move, CRS Insight, December 8, 2017

Taylor Force Act: Palestinian Terrorism-Related Payments and U.S. Aid, CRS Insight, updated December 12, 2017

Suing Subway: When Does a Class Action Settlement Benefit Only the Lawyers?, CRS Legal Sidebar, December 12, 2017

Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated December 8, 2017

Foreign Agents Registration Act, and More from CRS

“In the wake of the 2016 election, concerns have been raised with respect to the legal regime governing foreign influence in domestic politics,” a new report from the Congressional Research Service notes. “The central law concerning the activities of the agents of foreign entities acting in the United States is the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).”

Significantly, that law does not prohibit “representation of foreign interests or limited distribution of foreign propaganda. Instead, the Act provides only for public disclosure of any such activities. FARA’s legislative history indicates that Congress believed such disclosure would best combat foreign influence by informing the American public of the actions taken and information distributed on behalf of foreign sources.” See The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA): A Legal Overview, December 4, 2017.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

“Extraordinary Measures” and the Debt Limit, CRS Insight, December 8, 2017

Efforts to Address Seasonal Agricultural Import Competition in the NAFTA Renegotiation, December 7, 2017

Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress, updated December 5, 2017

The Child and Dependent Care Credit: Impact of Selected Policy Options, December 5, 2017

Public Sector Union Dues: Grappling with Fixed Stars and Stare Decisis (Part I), CRS Legal Sidebar, December 4, 2017

EPA’s Clean Power Plan for Existing Power Plants: Frequently Asked Questions, updated December 4, 2017

Changes to “Too Big To Fail?”: Treasury Recommends Revisions to Dodd-Frank SIFI Designation Process for Non-Banks (Part I), CRS Legal Sidebar, December 1, 2017

Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs): Background and Issues for Congress, December 1, 2017

Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances, updated December 4, 2017

Haiti’s Political and Economic Conditions: In Brief, December 1, 2017

Yemen: Civil War and Regional Intervention, updated December 7, 2017

Lebanon, updated December 7, 2017

Oman: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated December 4, 2017

Natural Disasters of 2017: Congressional Considerations Related to FEMA Assistance, CRS Insight, December 6, 2017

FEMA’s Firefighter Assistance Grants: Reauthorization or Sunset?, CRS Insight, December 5, 2017

What Happens If the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Lapses?, CRS Insight, December 5, 2017

Russian Compliance with the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty: Background and Issues for Congress, updated December 6, 2017

Negotiating with North Korea: History and Options

The alternative to military conflict with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program is to advance some kind of negotiated settlement. But what would that be? And how could it be achieved?

A new report from the Congressional Research Service summarizes the limited successes of past nuclear negotiations between the US and North Korea, including lessons learned. Looking forward, it discusses the features of possible negotiations that would need to be determined, such as the specific goals to be achieved, preconditions for negotiations (if any), the format (bilateral or multilateral), and potential linkage to other policy issues.

See Nuclear Negotiations with North Korea: In Brief, December 4, 2017.

See also Possible U.S. Policy Approaches to North KoreaCRS In Focus, September 4, 2017.

How a Government Shutdown Works, and More from CRS

Short-term funding of the government is currently set to expire on December 8. If funding is not extended by Congress, then most government operations would have to cease.

The processes and procedures by which such a shutdown would be executed, as well as its broader implications, were described in a newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service.

“Government shutdowns have necessitated furloughs of several hundred thousand federal employees, required cessation or reduction of many government activities, and affected numerous sectors of the economy,” the CRS report said.

“The longest such shutdown lasted 21 full days during FY1996, from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996. More recently, a funding gap commenced on October 1, 2013, the first day of FY2014, after funding for the previous fiscal year expired.” It lasted 16 days. See Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects, November 30, 2017.

And see, relatedly, Funding Gaps and Government Shutdowns: CRS Experts, November 28, 2017.

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Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Deficits and Debt: Economic Effects and Other Issues, updated November 21, 2017

The Trump Administration and the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, November 29, 2017

Nuclear Energy: Overview of Congressional Issues, updated November 27, 2017

Repair or Rebuild: Options for Electric Power in Puerto Rico, November 16, 2017

Federal Role in Voter Registration: The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and Subsequent Developments, November 28, 2017

Social Security Primer, updated November 30, 2017

Reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the 115th Congress, updated November 30, 2017

Statute of Limitation in Federal Criminal Cases: An Overview, updated November 14, 2017

Contested Elections in Honduras, CRS Insight, November 30, 2017

Colombia: Background and U.S. Relations, updated November 14, 2017

Iran’s Expanding Economic Relations with Asia, CRS Insight, November 29, 2017

New Zealand: Background and Bilateral Relations with the United States, updated November 13, 2017

Federal Disaster Assistance: The National Flood Insurance Program and Other Federal Disaster Assistance Programs Available to Individuals and Households After a Flood, updated November 28, 2017

Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer Programs: Background and Issues for Congress, updated November 30, 2017

Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated November 30, 2017

Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Hypervelocity Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress, updated November 30, 2017

Killing Endangered Species: What’s Reasonable Self-Defense?, CRS Legal Sidebar, November 29, 2017

Who’s the Boss at the CFPB?, CRS Legal Sidebar, November 28, 2017