For staffers who want to get savvy this summer
Is August recess starting to drag on? Looking for some new items to add to your reading list? Here’s R Street’s quick-hit list of background resources on various policy topics that you may not have been able to keep up with during session. (And don’t miss the details for our end-of-recess party at the bottom of the list!)
Who is R Street? Never heard of us? Want to know us better? Here is a summary of who we are, what we specialize in and how we strive to be a resource for Congress. In short, we’re a free-market think tank dedicated to pragmatic solutions and limited, effective government—and we’re willing to work with each and every office to promote policies that move the ball in that direction.
Commercial Freedom (Occupational Licensing; Postal; Birth Control Disintermediation; Telemedicine; Regulatory Reform; Alcohol Policy)
- ❏ Haven’t you heard? Birth control should be available over the counter: Decreasing burdensome government regulation that limits access to hormonal birth control is a winning, bipartisan solution both parties should embrace. R Street has been leading the fight on this both federally and in the states, and we have everything you need to get up to speed, from a one-pager to FAQs to a long-form policy paper that hones in on states’ moves to modernize birth control access.
- ❏ Get back up to speed on the rail industry: With a transportation and infrastructure package still looming in Congress’ future, it is essential that T&I staffers stay informed on how America’s railways can continue their work and what policies need to be adopted to ensure rail is modernized. To fill in the gaps, check out “Setting the record straight on the railway workforce” and “Barriers to Innovation and Automation in Railway Regulation,” a policy study by R Street’s Nick Zaiac and collaborators at TechFreedom.
- ❏ Speaking of infrastructure: Make sure to check out how water infrastructure procurement should be modernized—an improvement that could yield up to 39 percent cost savings.
- ❏ An easy way to lessen the burden of student debt: Many congressional proposals to decrease individuals’ student debt burdens do not address one of the worst policies on the books—a state’s right to suspend a person’s occupational license if they fall behind on loan repayment. This counterproductive policy leads to devastating outcomes as people lose their jobs and get locked into poverty. More than 15 states still enforce this policy, but Congress can stop the practice nationwide. A bill, led by Senators Warren (D-MA) and Rubio (R-FL), has been introduced.
Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties (Social Reintegration/Reentry; Jail Reform; Policing; Juvenile Justice )
- ❏ Invest in postsecondary education for prisoners: In order to prepare prisoners for life beyond bars and reduce national recidivism rates, educational opportunities must be provided in prisons and jails. This is an important and timely issue; Senators Schatz (D-HI) and Durbin (D-IL) have introduced the Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act, which would restore Pell Grant eligibility for people behind bars, and we’d love to see it incorporated in the Higher Education Act. For more on why conservatives and liberals alike should embrace postsecondary education in prison, check out our analysis here.
- ❏ Employment behind bars: Opportunities for private employment behind bars can also help inmates develop marketable skills and can aid in effective reentry. This paper considers current barriers to work behind bars and offers solutions to policymakers.
Energy and Environment (Energy Competition; Market-Based Climate Solutions; Electricity Policy)
- ❏ Who says climate solutions require bigger government?: Contrary to popular belief, climate action does not have to mean top-down, heavy-handed government intervention. R Street’s experts believe that conservative principles like limited government and market competition are the most effective ways to address climate change. Read about six specific market-friendly climate solutions in our one-pager here.
- ❏ A Green New Deal alternative: In all but 13 U.S. states, consumers are not given the option to choose their electricity provider. Congress should enact a Customer Empowerment Act, which would break the monopoly utility model and empower consumers to choose clean energy options. This would open up additional space for clean-energy providers to compete against one another for customers and drive down energy costs. A win-win for consumers and for clean energy!
- ❏ Renewables pricing explained: How much do you know about the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) and the antiquated law’s impact on renewable energy pricing? R Street Energy Policy Director and former Montana Public Service Commission Chairman Travis Kavulla gives an explainer here and makes the case for reforming PURPA and adopting competitive pricing processes in this National Review op-ed.
Finance and Trade (Monetary Policy; Housing Finance Reform; Financial Regulation Policy; Trade Agreements and the Rules-Based Trading System)
- ❏ Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are still broken: Since the financial crisis of 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored enterprises, have been stuck in government conservatorship. Certain reforms can be made unilaterally by the Federal Housing Finance Authority, while others need congressional approval. Policymakers should work quickly to reform the mortgage giants to ensure they remain solvent and do not threaten taxpayers.
- ❏ It’s time to rein in the president’s unilateral tariff authority: Since the early 1930s, Congress has delegated ever more unilateral tariff authority to the executive branch. Though that authority was responsibly utilized for 85 years, it is becoming clear the Trump administration has abused it in order to wage reckless trade wars. It’s time for Congress to reclaim some tariff authority from the president, consistent with Article I of the Constitution.
- ❏ Responsibly replace NAFTA: Trade among the United States, Canada and Mexico has been an enormous success since passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 25 years ago. After continuously maligning the agreement, the Trump administration has negotiated a flawed but workable replacement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). The agreement can be improved if House Democrats and the White House can work together to make some small fixes in order to ease its passage.
Governance (Gov’t Ops; Congressional Reform; Separation of Powers; Protecting Institutions)
- ❏ Sharpen your procedural chops!: House staff: Here is your House committee markup process manual (sample scripts included). Senate staff: Here is an entire blog dedicated to helping you understand why leadership and the parliamentarian are doing what they do.
- ❏ There is a House committee you may not know exists—the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress: And it is a really big deal. The bipartisan committee is taking on issues such as staff pay, congressional calendars, transparency, employee benefits, committee structure and much more. LegBrach.org was created to be your one-stop-shop for background info, resources and all the committee has done so far.
- ❏ What is the OTA?: The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) just got funding from House LegBranch Approps for the first time since 1995. Even more exciting, it has received a recommendation for a full remodel by the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress! Check out this policy paper to learn about how restarting this congressional support agency can help members “phone an expert” when prepping for committee hearings about social media, 5G, cybersecurity, AI and more.
- ❏ Presidential candidates are promising to “fix” or “balance” the Courts. What is Congress’ role here?: From proposals to implement 18-year term limits to altering the number of seats on the bench (i.e., court packing), increased scrutiny of the Supreme Court’s legitimacy is resulting in a lot of talk about reforming the judicial branch. Obviously, Congress has a role to play here. Here is a summary of the convo so far and where the House and Senate should step in.
Harm Reduction (Tobacco Harm Reduction; Opioid Harm Reduction)
- ❏ Pragmatic approaches to combat the opioid epidemic: On a population level, abstinence-only approaches repeatedly fail. Harm reduction strategies like syringe exchanges, naloxone access programs and medication-assisted opioid treatment are controversial, but they have the potential to save millions of lives across the country. This educational one-pager lays out the current state of harm reduction for opioid and injection drug use and gives recommendations for policymakers seeking to minimize the harms of the opioid crisis.
- ❏ Tobacco users need harm reduction approaches too: Similarly, reduced-risk tobacco products like e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn products and snus are the topic of heated debates. However, they have been proven effective for helping adult smokers minimize the risk of negative health outcomes from tobacco use. This educational one-pager examines the tobacco harm reduction landscape and considers what policymakers and regulators can do to protect the harm reduction potential of these products for adult smokers.
Insurance (Market-Based Approaches to Insurance Policy; National Flood Insurance Program; Terrorism Risk Insurance; Benefits of Mitigation Such as the RESTORE Act and the Coastal Barrier Resources System)
- ❏ Reform the bankrupt National Flood Insurance Program: The 50-year-old National Flood Insurance Program has had to borrow nearly $40 billion from the U.S. Treasury over the past decade and a half, and has repaid less than $2 billion of that total. While Congress was able to pass some reforms that would see the program charge more accurate rates in 2012, some of those were repealed in 2014. Congressional efforts at further reform have hit a standstill over the past two years, with some even seeking to reverse progress. However, FEMA has launched a multi-year project to update its maps and bring rate adequacy to the program over the long term.
- ❏ Transfer federal risk to the private market: One area where the NFIP has already moved in the right direction is in transferring more of its risk to the global reinsurance and capital markets by purchasing reinsurance and issuing catastrophe bonds. Legislation introduced in the last session would call for a top-to-bottom evaluation of other agencies who likewise could better protect taxpayers and ensure program solvency through the use of insurance and reinsurance. That would have to include finding ways to transfer the hundreds of billions of uninsured earthquake risk currently held by the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
- ❏ CBRA provides a conservative approach to conservation: Signed by Ronald Reagan in 1982, the Coastal Barrier Resources Act sketches out a 3.5 million acre zone of sensitive ecosystem where developers cannot use any federal subsidies—including transportation, housing and flood insurance—to build new construction. Though the law continues to face challenges, it was expanded significantly by President Donald Trump, and the Fish and Wildlife Service is currently engaged in a project to expand its territory even further.
National Security & Cybersecurity (Supply Chain Security; Encryption; Cybersecurity Threats; International Balance of Powers; Zero-Trust Environments; Emerging Threats)
- ❏ Congress needs a new perspective on the future of encryption: Data encryption has long been a hotly contested issue, as policymakers attempt to balance users’ personal privacy with law enforcement’s need to access relevant data. R Street Cyber Security and National Security Director Jim Baker offers new perspectives on the issue, which both law enforcement entities and encryption providers may be ignoring.
- ❏ Spotlight on supply chain security: Huawei and ZTE are already on the United States’ radar for potentially exploiting American cyber weaknesses and engaging in malicious cyber activities targeted at government agencies and critical industries. R Street National Security and Cybersecurity Research Associate Kathryn Waldron and Senior Fellow Paul Rosenzweig argue that companies like Kaspersky Labs and Lenovo—firms associated with potentially hostile foreign actors like Russia and China—should be investigated as well. Also, don’t miss our one-page overview of supply chain security issues.
- ❏ Venezuela: still in political turmoil. How did we get here?: Based on the photos and news coming out of Venezuela’s violent politically motivated riots, we bet you wouldn’t assume that they use the most secure voting system on the market… but they do. R Street Government Affairs Specialist Kristen Nyman explores their voting system and why it failed to save them from the dire political crisis they find themselves still in today.
Technology and Innovation (5G; Automation; Patents; Artificial Intelligence; Content Moderation; Broadband; Spectrum)
- ❏ R Street’s take on online content moderation: Online content moderation is one of the mostly hotly debated technology policy areas, especially since Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) recently introduced a bill on the subject. R Street Policy Fellow Daisy Soderberg-Rivkin, formerly a content moderator at Google, details the dangers of Congress seizing control over online content moderation by denying certain entities protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. For more on online fairness and censorship, don’t miss this piece, which argues that if Donald Trump wants a politically neutral, unbiased platform, he should have the government make one.
- ❏ Patents and national security, what you need to know: In Lawfare, R Street Director of Technology and Innovation Charles Duan examines this question in the context of the Verizon-Huawei dispute—a situation that came to light June 12—and our nation’s increasing need to be a leader in the race to 5G dominance.
- ❏ What are the proper limits on police use of facial recognition?: In a joint effort between R Street’s Criminal Justice and Technology policy teams, R Street’s Nila Bala and Caleb Watney tackle the incredibly important issue of limitations on police use of facial recognition technology.
- ❏ Weather forecasting or 5G? Why not both?: Rolling out the next phase of 5G in the 24 GHz band has been a hotly debated topic on and off the Hill as of late. The topic recently took an unexpected turn when weather forecasting got involved. In this piece, R Street Tech Policy Fellow Joe Kane, a connoisseur of all things spectrum, dives deep into this fascinating debate that involves disparate stakeholders including NOAA and WhatsApp.
Interested in learning more? Our policy experts are always happy to visit your office for a deeper dive into any of these issues. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a meeting. To subscribe to our weekly federal affairs newsletter, please click here.
And finally… LET’S PARTY! If you made it this far, you definitely deserve a drink. And you’re in luck: R Street is hosting an end-of-recess happy hour for our allies and friends on the Hill at Sonoma Wine Bar on September 5th. Dubbed the “No-Party Party,” this will be a chance to leave your R & D at the door and chat about pragmatic policy solutions unbound by party lines. RSVP here.