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August 23, 2018

A Summer Reading List for Congress

U.S. Capitol at sunny day, photo by sborisov/AdobeStock


With the end of summer in sight, Congress’s August lull will give way to a busy September. To that end, RAND has compiled a list of recent publications relevant to the upcoming congressional agenda.

If you have questions about any of the research below, contact Jayme Fuglesten, Director, Congressional Relations: Jayme_Fuglesten@rand.org.

Featured Research

Truth Decay

flag of USA on grunge wooden texture painted with chalk, The words Truth Decay over a fading American flag painted on wood, photo by vepar5/Adobe Stock

As Members of Congress tackle difficult decisions over issues ranging from health care to national security to immigration, they might also be impeded by what RAND researchers have dubbed “Truth Decay”: a phenomenon defined by increasing disagreement about facts, a blurring between opinion and fact, an increase in the relative volume of opinion and personal experience over fact, and declining trust in formerly respected sources of factual information.

In a recent report, Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael D. Rich find that Americans’ reliance on facts to discuss public issues has declined significantly over the past two decades, leading to political paralysis, the erosion of civil discourse, and uncertainty in national policy. Where basic facts and well-supported analyses of these facts were once generally accepted, disagreement about even objective facts has swelled, and a growing number of Americans view the U.S. government, media, and academia with new suspicion. The report focuses on four causes of Truth Decay, including changes in the information system, such as social media and the 24-hour news cycle, and polarization—both political and demographic—and outlines a strategy for determining what can be done to address its causes and consequences.

Read the report »

Read the research brief »

Gun Policy in America

RAND Gun Policy in America logo, image by Chara Williams/RAND Corporation

Gun policy is a subject of perennial discussion on Capitol Hill and in state governments alike. RAND’s self-funded Gun Policy in America initiative, one of the largest ever reviews of gun policy research, found that the pro- and anti-gun control sides appear to share many of the same objectives when it comes to gun policy. However, they differ in their beliefs over which policies will best achieve those objectives. This indicates that the policy stalemate isn’t necessarily caused by a clash of values: It is being driven by disagreements about facts that could be knowable.

Compounding this issue is that while the effects of gun policies are frequently debated, they have rarely been the subject of rigorous scientific evaluation. Due to federal restrictions on gun research, researchers searching for evidence about what does and doesn’t work to prevent gun violence have to do so without government support or government data. RAND’s initiative included a neutral review of the evidence on a range of gun policy proposals. Yet despite reviewing thousands of books, journal articles and research papers, researchers found that only a few were designed with the scientific rigor to show that a given policy actually changed a given outcome.

The full Gun Policy in America project includes summaries of key findings, analysis of the existing evidence base, a historical database of state gun laws, as well as supporting research reports.

Explore the project »

Russian Way of Warfare

A Russian soldier on top of an army vehicle keeps watch outside a border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava, March 1, 2014, photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

The FY19 National Defense Authorization Act calls for enhancing deterrence against Russian aggression in Europe. Deterrence can be enhanced by understanding how an adversary would employ its forces. An important question for policymakers is: How would Russia fight in the event of a major conflict against a peer or near-peer adversary?

Russia has recently carried out substantial reforms to its military forces, increasing capability in several key areas, and its military has improved to the extent that it can be used in a limited context to achieve vital national interests. Russia hopes to defend its territory and avoid a decisive engagement with a peer or near-peer competitor by fielding defensive systems and strike weapons with extended ranges. Given Russia’s conventional weaknesses in a protracted war with a peer or near-peer adversary, it will attempt to use indirect action strategies and asymmetric responses across multiple domains. Russia could threaten to use, or actually employ, its nuclear weapons in response to a conventional attack that would undermine the regime’s control of the state or threaten Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

The paper Russian Way of Warfare: A Primer further discusses Russia’s military posture and strategic defense, the key characteristics of Russian warfare, and implications for U.S. policy.

Read the perspective »

The Korean Peninsula: Three Dangerous Scenarios

Map of the Korean Peninsula and Japan, photo by PytyCzech/Getty Images

Earlier this summer, President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Should follow-on talks fail to resolve key issues, the military situation in Korea could remain very dangerous.

What security challenges should the United States prepare for on the Korean Peninsula? A RAND paper analyzes three major issues: the implications of a large, survivable North Korean nuclear force; the challenges of North Korean artillery that can threaten Seoul from the Kaesong Heights; and the issues involved with a potential mission to secure loose nuclear weapons after a North Korean collapse. The paper concludes that U.S. capabilities are insufficient to meet projected needs in these areas and argues that existing operational concepts must be rethought.

Read the perspective »


Iraqi counterterrorism forces in Falluja

Momentum toward an infrastructure bill has ebbed and flowed throughout this congressional session, and recently got a boost with the release of House Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman Shuster’s discussion draft.

A recent RAND report finds that funding levels and the overall physical conditions of transportation and water infrastructure are far from dire. However, serious problems exist, and while significant increases in federal spending to repair or build anew may do some good, a ramp-up in spending alone or simply spreading the money evenly across all regions will not fix what is wrong in our approach to funding and financing public works.

The report includes ten potential options for Congress as it works to better align infrastructure policy and spending to public priorities. Some of these could include:

  • Preserve the federal tax exemption on interest earned from municipal bonds for at least the next decade, but also reinstate Build America Bonds with taxable interest for a 10-year period and experiment with other financing alternatives;
  • Support further state experimentation with approaches to mileage-based fee collection, with an eye toward transitioning to a new federal system that more effectively links revenue collection to highway use;
  • Target longer-term new capital and renewal projects likely to produce significant national benefits; and
  • Prioritize maintenance of federal assets, such as mission-critical military bases, dams, levees, locks, national parks, and other vital federal infrastructure.

Read the report »

Single Payer in NY

Map of New York State covered in medical and health icons, image by bubaone/Getty Images

Calls for some type of single-payer health care plan have increased at both the national and state level. For example, the New York State Legislature is considering the New York Health Act, which would create a state-sponsored single-payer health program. This program would provide comprehensive coverage to all state residents without deductibles, copayments, or other out-of-pocket costs, and would be financed in part by revenues from two new progressively graduated state taxes.

In a new report, RAND researchers modeled this plan’s effects on health care use, spending, and payments, compared to what is expected under the new status quo for the years 2022, 2026, and 2031. Researchers estimated that the plan could reduce total spending if cost reductions were achieved but would require significant new tax revenue. Possible tax schedules to support the plan could cut health care payments for most of the state’s households, while the highest-income households would pay substantially more than they do today.

Read the report »

Read the research brief »

RAND Congressional Resources Staff

Jayme Fuglesten

Jayme Fuglesten
Director, Office of Congressional Relations

RAND Office of Congressional Relations
(703) 413-1100, ext. 5643


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