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CRS — Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies: FY2013 Appropriations

December 31, 2012 Comments off

Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies: FY2013 Appropriations (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies appropriations bill provides funding for the planning, design, construction, alteration, and improvement of facilities used by active and reserve military components worldwide. It capitalizes military family housing and the U.S. share of the NATO Security Investment Program and finances the implementation of installation closures and realignments. It underwrites veterans benefit and health care programs administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), provides for the creation and maintenance of U.S. cemeteries and battlefield monuments within the United States and abroad, and supports the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Armed Forces Retirement Homes, and Arlington National Cemetery. The bill also funds advance appropriations for veterans’ medical services.

President Barack Obama submitted his request to Congress for FY2013 appropriations on February 13, 2012. For the appropriations accounts included in this bill, his request totaled $145.2 billion in new budget authority, divided into three major categories: Title I (military construction and family housing) at $11.2 billion; Title II (veterans affairs) at $135.6 billion; and Title III (related agencies) at $219.5 million. Of the total, $74.4 billion (49.9%) would be discretionary appropriations, with the remainder considered mandatory. On May 15, the House Committee on Appropriations reported a bill recommending appropriating $10.9 billion for Title I (less $235 million in funds rescinded from prior years), $135.4 billion for Title II, and $347 million for Title III.

Military construction funding amounts requested by the President and enacted by Congress have fallen off as the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) round has reached completion, although Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has requested statutory authority to carry out two new BRAC rounds in 2013 and 2015. Funding support for military family housing construction has also declined as the military departments (Army, Navy, and Air Force) continue their efforts to privatize formerly government-owned accommodations.

Funding for the VA between FY2012 and FY2013 in the Administration request, H.R. 5854, and S. 3215, reflects increases for mandatory veterans’ benefits and health care. The largest percentage increases between FY2012 and FY2013 are for mandatory benefits, primarily disability compensation and pension benefits.

The House Committee on Appropriations reported its FY2013 bill (H.R. 5854) on May 16, 2012 (H.Rept. 112-491) and passed the bill on May 31. The Senate received H.R. 5854 on June 5. The Senate Committee on Appropriations reported its bill (S. 3215) on May 22 (S.Rept. 112-168), and the bill was placed on the Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Nevertheless, an appropriation bill was not enacted before the end of FY 2012, and government operations have continued under a continuing resolution (H.J.Res. 117, enacted September 28) that will expire on March 27, 2013. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Senate has proposed an emergency supplemental appropriation that includes military construction and veterans funding.

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CRS — The Sustainability of the Federal Budget Deficit: Market Confidence and Economic Effects

December 31, 2012 Comments off

The Sustainability of the Federal Budget Deficit: Market Confidence and Economic Effects (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The budget deficit has exceeded $1 trillion since 2009. Combined with a shrinking economy, deficits increased the publicly held federal debt by over 30 percentage points of GDP between 2008 and 2012. Deficits of this size are not sustainable in the long run because the federal debt cannot indefinitely grow faster than output. Over time, a greater and greater share of national income would be devoted to servicing the debt, until eventually the government would be forced to finance the debt through money creation or default.

The current policy debate on the “fiscal cliff” occurring at the end of 2012 has raised the question of whether a deficit of the current magnitude is manageable and what risks it poses to the economy. Since deficit reduction could have a contractionary effect on the economy in the short run at a time when the economy is still fragile, restoring fiscal sustainability poses another set of risks that must be balanced against the risks of continuing an unsustainably large deficit. This report will evaluate sustainability issues.

Although the debt cannot persistently rise relative to GDP, it can rise for a time. It is hard to predict at what point bond holders would deem it to be unsustainable. A few other advanced economies have debt-to-GDP ratios higher than that of the United States. Some of those countries in Europe have recently seen their financing costs rise to the point that they are unable to finance their deficits solely through private markets. But Japan has the highest debt-to-GDP ratio of any advanced economy, and it has continued to be able to finance its debt at extremely low costs.

If investors on balance deemed the debt to be unsustainable, the yields and the cost of credit default swaps on Treasury securities would be expected to rise. Instead, both are currently low. This may seem surprising, given that the debt is currently growing more rapidly than output and is projected to continue to do so under current policy. The willingness of bond holders to finance the federal debt at low interest rates in light of these projections suggests that they believe that policy changes will eventually be made to place the federal debt on a sustainable path. This belief could change at any time; if it did, the experience of foreign countries suggests that the effects on the economy and financial markets could be severe. A failure to raise the debt limit or a ratings downgrade of U.S. debt by a credit rating agency are two events that have been seen as potential catalysts for a change in investor sentiment, although the downgrade when the debt nearly reached its statutory limit in 2011 did not result in higher yields.

According to standard macroeconomic theory, large deficits have temporarily boosted overall spending at a time when there is significant slack in the economy. Once private investment demand recovers, a large deficit would be expected to “crowd out” private investment spending. By accounting identity, domestic investment spending equals national saving plus net borrowing from abroad. The budget deficit has been equal to about half of private saving over the last three years. Even before the increase in the deficit, national saving was insufficient to finance domestic investment spending, and the United States was borrowing from abroad at unprecedented rates, peaking at about 6% of GDP. (Borrowing from abroad has since fallen by half, but remains relatively high.) To sustain large deficits, the economy will require some combination of higher private saving, lower investment, and higher borrowing from abroad. Some economists have argued that borrowing much more than 6% of GDP from abroad is unrealistic, and the already heavy U.S. reliance on borrowing from abroad makes the maintenance of a large budget deficit even less sustainable.

CRS — The President’s State of the Union Address: Tradition, Function, and Policy Implications

December 31, 2012 Comments off

The President’s State of the Union Address: Tradition, Function, and Policy Implications (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The State of the Union address is a communication between the President and Congress in which the chief executive reports on the current conditions of the United States and provides policy proposals for the upcoming legislative year. Formerly known as the “Annual Message,” the State of the Union address originates in the Constitution. As part of the system of checks and balances, Article II, Section 3, clause 1 mandates that the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” In recent decades, the President has expanded his State of the Union audience, addressing the speech to both the nation and Members of Congress.

Over time, the State of the Union address has evolved considerably. The format and delivery of the speech have changed, and its length has fluctuated widely. Technology has also influenced the delivery of the address, with the advent of radio, television, and the Internet playing significant roles in the transformation.

Although each President uses the State of the Union address to outline his administration’s policy agenda, most incorporate common rhetorical arguments and ceremonial traditions. Bipartisanship, attention to both the past and the future, and optimism are recurring themes in State of the Union addresses.

The legislative success rate of policy proposals mentioned in State of the Union addresses varies widely. Addresses given after a President’s election or reelection and during periods of unified party government tend to produce higher rates of legislative success. Presidents can also use the State of the Union address to increase media attention for a particular issue.

Immediately following the State of the Union address, the political party not occupying the White House provides an opposition response. The response, usually much shorter than the State of the Union, outlines the opposition party’s policy agenda and serves as an official rejoinder to the proposals outlined by the President.

Lake Superior State University 2013 Banished Words List

December 31, 2012 Comments off

Lake Superior State University 2013 Banished Words List

Source: Lake Superior State University

While the U.S. Congress has been kicking the can down the road and inching closer to the fiscal cliff, the word gurus at Lake Superior State University have doubled-down on their passion for the language and have released their 38th annual List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness.

The list, compiled from nominations sent to LSSU throughout the year, is released each year on New Year’s Eve. It dates back to Dec. 31, 1975, when former LSSU Public Relations Director Bill Rabe (RAY-bee) and some colleagues cooked up the whimsical idea to banish overused words and phrases from the language. They issued the first list on New Year’s Day 1976. Much to the delight of word enthusiasts everywhere, the list has stayed the course into a fourth decade.

Through the years, LSSU has received tens of thousands of nominations for the list, which is closing in on its 1,000th banishment.

This year’s list is culled from nominations received mostly through the university’s website. Word-watchers target pet peeves from everyday speech, as well as from the news, fields of education, technology, advertising, politics and more. A committee makes a final cut in late December.

So, let’s see what’s trending. Grab your favorite superfood (boneless wings) as the list creators at LSSU reveal (spoiler alert!) their bucket list of misused, overused and generally useless words and phrases. YOLO!

CRS — Counting Electoral Votes: An Overview of Procedures at the Joint Session, Including Objections by Members of Congress

December 31, 2012 Comments off

Counting Electoral Votes: An Overview of Procedures at the Joint Session, Including Objections by Members of Congress (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Constitution and federal law establish a detailed timetable following the presidential election during which time the members of the electoral college convene in the 50 state capitals and in the District of Columbia, cast their votes for President and Vice President, and submit their votes through state officials to both houses of Congress. The electoral votes are opened before a joint session of Congress on January 6, unless that date is changed by law. Federal law specifies the procedures which are to be followed at this session and provides procedures for challenges to the validity of an electoral vote. This report describes the steps in the process and precedents set in prior presidential elections governing the actions of the House and Senate in certifying the electoral vote and in responding to challenges of the validity of one or more electoral votes from one or more states.

This report has been revised, and will be updated on a periodic basis to provide the dates for the relevant joint session of Congress, and to reflect any new, relevant precedents or practices.

CRS — Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program: An Overview

December 31, 2012 Comments off

Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program: An Overview (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

The Hollings Manufacturing Partnership (MEP) is a program of regional centers that assist smaller, U.S.-based manufacturing companies in identifying and adopting new technologies. Operating under the auspices of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), centers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico provide technical and managerial assistance to firms. Federal funding is matched by non-federal sources. Existing resources in government, business, and academia are leveraged while the program endeavors to build on current state and local activities and industrial extension efforts.

The MEP program has, at times, been included in the discussion surrounding termination of government programs that provide direct federal support for industry. Questions have been raised in congressional debate as to the appropriateness of government funding for this program when the technologies are available in the marketplace. Instead of the government picking “winners and losers,” opponents argue, the marketplace should make decisions regarding firms worthy of investment. However, proponents of the program stress that, to date, no direct funding is available to companies through MEP and that assistance is technical, scientific, and/or managerial. The centers facilitate the adoption of new technologies that foster competition and promote innovation. As Congress continues to make appropriation decisions, support for manufacturing extension may be discussed in the context of the role of the federal government in facilitating research and technological advancement.

CRS — 2006 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5): Designating Nonattainment Areas

December 31, 2012 Comments off

2006 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5): Designating Nonattainment Areas (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its final revisions to the Clean Air Act (CAA) National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for particulate matter (particulates, or PM) on October 17, 2006. EPA’s actions leading up to and following promulgation of the 2006 standard have been the subject of considerable congressional oversight. EPA and states’ ongoing implementation of the standard, beginning with the designation of those geographical areas not in compliance, likewise has been an area of concern and debate among some Members of Congress, states, and other stakeholders for some time. EPA’s most recent round of periodic review of the particulates NAAQS and proposal to revise the PM NAAQS, published June 29, 2012, have prompted further scrutiny of the ongoing implementation of the standards. EPA has agreed to issue final revised PM NAAQS by December 14, 2012.

Promulgation of NAAQS sets in motion a process under which the states and EPA identify areas that exceed the standard (“nonattainment areas”) using multi-year air quality monitoring data and other criteria, requiring states to take steps to reduce pollutant concentrations in order to achieve it. The publication of the final designations for the 2006 NAAQS—and thus the effective date of the final designations—had initially been delayed pending review by the current Administration. On November 13, 2009, EPA published its final designations for the 2006 PM NAAQS that included 120 counties and portions of counties in 18 states as nonattainment areas based on 2006 through 2008 air quality monitoring data. The final designations, which include tribal land of 22 tribes, were effective as of December 14, 2009. States have three years from the effective date to submit nonattainment area State Implementation Plans (SIPs), which identify specific regulations and emission control requirements that would bring a nonattainment area into compliance.

The 2006 NAAQS strengthened the pre-existing (1997) standard for “fine” particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter (PM2.5) by lowering the allowable daily concentration of PM2.5 in the air. The daily standard averaged over 24-hour periods was reduced from 65 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m 3 ) to 35 µg/m 3 . However, the annual PM2.5 standard, which addresses human health effects from chronic exposures to the pollutants, was unchanged from the 1997 standard of 15 µg/m 3 . The 2006 NAAQS did not substantially modify the daily standard for slightly larger, but still inhalable, particles less than or equal to 10 micrometers (PM10), retaining the 24-hour standard but revoking the annual standard for PM10. EPA’s final nonattainment designations are only for the revised 2006 24-hour PM2.5 standard. EPA did not require new nonattainment designations for the PM2.5 annual standard and for PM10.

The final designations for the 2006 PM2.5 NAAQS included a few areas designated nonattainment for PM2.5 for the first time, but, as expected, the majority of the counties identified overlapped with EPA’s final nonattainment designations for the 1997 PM2.5 NAAQS. EPA’s designations for the 1997 PM2.5 NAAQS included all or part of 204 counties in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Most of them were only exceeding the annual standard; only 12 counties were exceeding both the 24-hour and the annual standards. Thus, the 2006 tightening of the 24-hour standard resulted in an increased number of areas being designated nonattainment based on exceedances of both the 24-hour and the annual standards.

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