Congressional Glossary

A
Act
Adjournment
Administrative Assistant
Advice and Consent
Aisle
Amendment
Appropriations Bill
Authorization Bill

B
Bill
Block Grants
Blue Dog Democrat
Body
Budget Act
Budget Resolution
Bully Pulpit
By Request

C
Capitol Hill
Case Worker
Caucus
Chair
Chief of Staff
Cloakrooms
Cloture
Co-Del
Colleague
Colloquy
Committees
Conferees
Conference Committee
Congressional Record
Conservative
Constituents
Cosponsor
 

D
Dear Colleague
Deficit
Delegate
Discharge Petition
District
District Office
District Work Period
Drop-By
The Desk

E
Engrossed Bill
Enrolled Bill
Entitlement Programs
Ex Officio
Executive Business
Executive Order
Executive Privilege
Expulsion

F
Fast-Track
Federalism
Filibuster
Final Passage
First Amendment
First Reading
Fiscal Year
Floor
Floor Manager
 

G
Galleries
GAO
GOP
Germane
GPO

H
H.R.
H.RES.
Hearing
Hold
Hopper
Houses [of Congress]

I
Ideology
Immunity, Congressional
Immunity, Witness
Impeachment
Incumbent 
Inside the Beltway
 

J
Joint Committee
Joint Meeting
Joint Resolution
Journal [House or Senate]
Jurisdiction

K
K Street
Killer Amendment
King of the Hill

L
Lame Duck
Law
Legislation
Legislative Assistant
Legislative Correspondent
Legislative History
Legislator
Liberal
Lobbyist
 

M
Mace
Mark-Up
Majority Leader/Minority Leader
Majority Vote
Members
Motions

N
Nominee 
Non-Germane
Not Voting

O
Objection
OMB
Omnibus Bill
One-Minutes
Other Body
Oversight
Override [Vote to]
 

P
Pages
Parliamentarian
Partisan
Pigeonhole
Point of Order
Pork Barrel
Presiding Officer
Press Secretary or 
    Communications Director

President of the Senate
President Pro Tempore 
    [or Pro Tem]

Professional Staff Member

Private Law
Public Law
Public Policy

Q
Queen of the Hill
Quorum Call
Quorum-House
Quorum-Senate

R
Ranking Majority Member
Ranking Member
Ratification by States
Recess
Recognition
Recorded Vote
Referred to Committee
Regular Order
Report Out
Resolutions
Revenue Bill
Revise and Extend
Rider
Rule, special
Rule, to grant
Rules, House
Rules, Senate
 

S
S.
S. RES.
Scheduler
Second Degree
Second Reading
Select or Special Committee
Sergeant-At-Arms
Speaker of the House
Special Interest Group
Special Orders
Sponsor
Staff Director
Standing Committee
State Legislature
Statement for the Record
Subcommittee
 

T
Table, Motion to
Third Party
Third Reading
Tie Vote
Time Agreement
Town Meeting
Two-Thirds Vote

U
Unanimous Consent
Union Calendar
U.S. Code

Unfunded Mandate

V
Veto
Veto-Proof
Vitiate
Voice Vote
Vote 
Voting Bloc
 

W
War Powers Act
Well
Whip
Without Objection
Witness

Words Taken Down
 

Y
Yeas and Nays
Yield for a Question
Yield the Floor

Z
Zero-Based Budgeting
 

   

Your suggestions for additional LEGISLATIVE or CONGRESSIONAL terms are welcome. Please submit by e-mail to: congress@indiana.edu.

A

Act

The title used for legislation at three different stages of the process:
[1] An "Act" is a bill which has been enacted into law after being passed by the
Congress and approved by the President.

[2] A bill which has passed both the House and Senate is called an "Act of Congress."

[3] "Act" is also properly used when a bill has passed just one chamber. At that stage, it is designated as "An Act of the House," or "An Act of the Senate."

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Adjournment

Adjournment is the formal end to a session of the House or Senate, or one of its committees. There are three different types of adjournment:

[1] The formal end of a 2-year Congress is called "sine die adjournment." "Sine die" is Latin, meaning "without a day" set for a return. For example, "The 107th Congress is adjourned, "sine die."

[2] Each two year Congress is divided into two sessions, about one year each in length. The end of an annual session is also termed an "adjournment." For example, "The first session of the 107th Congress is now adjourned."

[3] Both the House and Senate may adjourn at the end of each workday. For example, "Mr. Speaker, I move the House do now adjourn to reconvene tomorrow at 10 a.m."

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Administrative Assistant

See "Chief of Staff."

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Advice and Content

The phrase in Article II of the Constitution which gives the U.S. Senate the power to advise the President as he negotiates treaties with foreign nations, and the subsequent requirement for the Senate to ratify those treaties with a 2/3 vote. 

Also refers to the constitutional power of the Senate to confirm the President"s nominations of individuals for appointment to high public office.

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Aisle

Members refer to "my side of the aisle," as a way of stating their party affiliation. In both the House and Senate chamber, the majority and minority party members sit on opposite sides of the main aisle which divides the chamber in half.

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Amendment

A motion offered to change the text of a bill or of another amendment.

Members can offer amendments either in committee sessions or on the House or Senate floor during debate on a bill.

Members of Congress refer to proposals to change the text of a bill as "first degree" amendments, while proposals to change the text of another amendment are called "second degree" amendments.

Three types of amendments can be offered: (1) to add words, (2) to strike out existing words, or (3) to strike out existing words and replace them with substitute language.

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Appropriations Bill

A bill which provides the authority needed by the government to spend U.S. Treasury funds.

There are 13 annual appropriations bills. There are bills for all the major departments, e.g. State, Treasury, Justice, Commerce, etc. Together they fund the entire federal government.

These 13 bills must all be enacted prior to the start of a new fiscal year, designated as October 1.

Failure to meet this deadline results in a shut-down of the government unless Congress passes "continuing appropriations" - temporary extensions at current funding levels.

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Authorization Bill

A bill which provides the authority for a program or agency to exist and determines policies for it.

It also recommends spending levels to carry out the defined policy, but these levels are only advisory, and not binding.

Authorizations may be annual, multi-year, or permanent. Expiring programs require re-authorization.

House and Senate rules require that authorizations be in place before appropriations are passed. However, frequent exceptions to this order are made in the interests of time.

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B

Bill

A legislative proposal which would make law if it passes both the House and Senate and if it receives Presidential approval.

Bills are introduced as "H.R." in the House, and as "S." in the Senate. Besides bills, joint resolutions are the only other type of legislation which makes law. They are designated as H.J.Res. in the House and S.J.Res. in the Senate.

To review current bills pending before Congress, visit the THOMAS website: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/LegislativeData.php.

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Block Grants

Funds given states to run programs within guidelines defined by the federal government.

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Blue Dog Democrat

One of 37 conservative Democratic Members of the House of Representatives who have banded together to support a more centrist position on economic issues than that held by their party's leadership.

Blue Dogs frequently work with Republicans to forge consensus positions on legislation.

For more information, visit their website at:http://www.house.gov/cardoza/BlueDogs/bluedogs.shtml.

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Body

The House and Senate refer to each other as the "other body." When speaking of his/her own chamber, a Member of Congress might refer to "this body."

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Budget Act

Refers to the 1974 Congressional Budget Act, which created the congressional budget process. It also created the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the House and Senate Budget Committees. 

The 1974 Budget Act requires that Congress pass an annual budget resolution prior to enacting any appropriations bills.

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Budget Resolution

A resolution containing the annual decision made by Congress to set spending and revenue levels for the year to come. The Budget Resolution provides a voluntary framework within which Congress agrees to limit the subsequent money bills. The Budget Resolution may also instruct committees to change current law in order to save money, a process called "reconciliation."

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Bully Pulpit

Refers to the advantage the President has in communicating his ideas to the public. The term stems from President Theodore Roosevelt's reference to the White House as a "bully pulpit," meaning a terrific platform from which to speak to the people.

Roosevelt often used the word "bully" as an adjective meaning superb or wonderful.

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By Request

The phrase on a bill, next to the sponsor"s name, which indicates he/she has introduced the bill at the request of someone else. It also indicates the sponsor may or may not support the legislation but is introducing it as a courtesy. 
Only Members of Congress can introduce legislation. If the President or anyone in his Administration wants legislation to be considered, they must find a Member to introduce it on their behalf.

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C

Capitol Hill

 

Refers to the area encompassing the U.S. Capitol, the House and Senate office buildings, and the surrounding residential area of townhouses and apartment buildings.

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Case Worker

The staffer who helps a Representative or Senator solve constituent problems with the federal government. Most "cases" involve social security benefits, veterans" issues, or immigration or visa/passport problems.

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Caucus

An informal group of members sharing an interest in the same policy issues. Examples include the Arts Caucus, the Black Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus, the Rural Caucus, the Steel Caucus - and about 150 others.

Caucus members will share the expenses of one or two staffers to supply them with research and issue support in their special area of interest.

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Chair

Short for Chairman or Chairwoman. The Chair is the Member of Congress presiding over the House or Senate or a committee or subcommittee.

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Chief of Staff

The top aide to a Senator or Representative. The chief of staff is responsible for managing the Member's entire staff and also acts as the Member's chief political strategist. He/she is viewed as the Member's alter ego and often attends meetings on behalf of the Member and speaks for him or her.

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Cloakrooms

Both the House and Senate have a Democratic and a Republican cloakroom. They are two long, narrow rooms at the rear of the chamber.

Members meet in their party"s cloakroom for private conversations, phone calls, and snacks.

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Cloture

The Senate motion to end a filibuster is called "cloture," meaning to cut off, or choke off, debate. Cloture takes 60 votes or more to take effect. If successful, cloture assures a vote on final passage can occur on the matter being filibustered.

Once adopted, cloture requires that debate come to an end, but gradually. It allows 30 additional hours, if needed, for further debate or amending. In routine practice, the Senate rarely uses any of the extra time, but proceeds straight to final consideration.

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Co-Del

Short for "congressional delegation." Used to describe a group of Members of Congress traveling together on fact-finding missions or to meet with foreign officials abroad. Co-Dels usually include some staff, and sometimes, spouses or family members, in addition to the elected officials.

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Colleague

A term of address used by members to refer to one another, as in "my distinguished colleague."

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Colloquy

A pre-scripted floor dialogue between two members on the floor, usually the chairman of a committee and another member of the committee.

The dialogue seeks to clarify the intent behind certain provisions of a bill for purposes of legislative history.

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Committees

Committees are panels of the House or Senate, created to do the initial review of proposed legislation, and decide which measures are worthy of further consideration by the full House or Senate. The committees are each assigned various policy categories to handle, known as jurisdiction.

The House and Senate each have about 20 permanent standing committees. The House and Senate also have select committees, and joint committees

Every Representative in the House is assigned to work on an average of two committees; while Senators are assigned to an average of four. Members are expected to become specialists in the subject matter under their committee"sjurisdiction.

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Conferees

House Members and Senators who are assigned to serve on a temporary conference committee to negotiate the differences in legislation passed by the House and Senate in different versions. Officially, conferees are called "managers," e.g. the House Managers and the Senate Managers.

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Conference Committee

A temporary panel of House and Senate negotiators.

A conference committee is created to resolve differences between versions of similar House and Senate bills.

The new compromise bill they write must then be approved by a majority vote in both the House and Senate. If approved, it is then sent to the President for his signature or veto.

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Congressional Record

The daily publication issued each day the House and Senate are in session. It contains everything said on the House and Senate floor that day [although Members have the right to edit and revise their statements before publication]. 

The Congressional Record also contains all the roll-call votes held each day, and additional statements for the record inserted by Members of Congress.

It is published by GPO, the Government Printing Office, and available by subscription or on-line at http://thomas.loc.gov/.

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Conservative

A person who generally opposes the expansion of governmental activities, and prefers solutions to social problems to come from the private sector rather than from government.

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Constituents

A group of citizens represented by an elected official and living in his or her specific district or state. 

Today, a congressman/woman has an average of 650,000 constituents. A Senator represents an entire state, and the number of constituents varies widely by state.  A California Senator, for example, has over 35 million constituents, while a Senator from Wyoming has only about 499,000.

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Cosponsor

A member of Congress who endorses a bill introduced by another Member by "signing on" to it. 

Some cosponsors work as hard to promote a bill as the original sponsor; others just lend their name as a supporter.

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D

Dear Colleague

A mass-produced letter sent by a Member of Congress to all the other Members. Each letter begins with "Dear Colleague," and may ask for co-sponsors on a bill or amendment or encourage Members to vote for or against certain legislation, or announce an upcoming event.

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Deficit

The amount by which federal expenditures exceed federal revenues.

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Delegate

A member of the House of Representatives from Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, or Washington, D.C.

The Constitution allows for representatives from non-states, such as U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, but prohibits delegates from voting on the House floor. Delegates are permitted them to vote in Committee.

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The Desk

The desk refers to the rostrum where the presiding officer and the various clerks of the chamber sit on the House and Senate floor.

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Discharge Petition

Starts a process in the House of Representatives to force a bill out of committee. A successful petition requires the signatures of 218 members, which is a majority of the House.

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District

The specific geographical area within a state represented by a House member. Congressional districts are drawn so that each has an average of about 650,000 citizens. States with small populations may have only one district (for example, Alaska) while a large state like California has 53 districts.

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District Office

Members of the House have one or more district offices, depending on the geographic size of the area they represent.

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District Work Period

A scheduled recess when the House or Senate are not in session; it usually lasts a week to ten days. Members of Congress use this break to travel around their districts and states, meeting with local officials and constituents, holding town meetings and open office hours.

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Drop-By

A term used by schedulers on a Member"s schedule card. It means the Member is expected to only briefly stop in at an event, such as a reception or dinner, and leave after shaking a few hands and perhaps posing for photos. Members typically get asked to attend 3-4 events per evening, making drop-bys necessary.

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E

Engrossed Bill

The version of a bill that has passed one house of Congress, and is sent to the other. It reflects the changes made to the original bill, if any, during the amendment process on the House or Senate floor.

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Enrolled Bill

The version of a bill that has passed both houses of Congress in identical form. It is officially printed on traditional parchment paper, is certified as the final and accurate text by the signatures of the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate, and is then sent to the President for his signature or veto.

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Entitlement Programs

Programs like Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, and veterans' benefits are known as entitlement programs. Each person eligible for benefits receives them unless Congress changes the eligibility criteria.

Funding levels are set by the number of eligible recipients, and not at the discretion of Congress. Entitlement payments represent the largest portion of the federal budget.

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Ex Officio

Latin phrase meaning "by virtue of office." In both the House and Senate, the chairman and ranking member of committees are considered to be "ex officio" members of all the committee"s subcommittees, giving them the right to participate in subcommittee meetings if they wish.

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Executive Order

A presidential directive with the force of law. It does not need congressional approval. 

The Supreme Court has upheld executive orders as valid either under the general constitutional grant of executive powers to the President, or if prior authority for it was expressly granted to the President by the Congress. 
Congress can repeal or modify an executive order by passing a new law; however it must be signed by the President, or enacted by overriding his veto.

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Executive Business

Refers to treaties and nominations sent by the president [the chief executive] to the Senate for review.

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Executive Privileges

When officials of the executive branch refuse to give Congress, the courts, or private parties information or records which have been requested or subpoenaed, or when they order government witnesses not to testify before Congress.

The assertion is based on the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers, is often controversial, subject to interpretation, and often ends up being litigated in the courts.

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Expulsion

The authority granted the House and Senate by the Constitution to expel one of its Members from the institution. Requires a 2/3 vote. Expulsion is limited for misconduct while in office, not misconduct prior to election. Misconduct is not expressly defined.

While the House and Senate have censured or reprimanded their Members, expulsion is rarely used. Deference is given to the voters to make a decision to unseat a Member at the next election or to allow the courts to convict and sentence a Member if he/she has been indicted.

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F

Fast-Track

Refers to special expedited procedures used to speed up the regular legislative process. Both the House and Senate must make special procedural arrangements to set aside the regular process in order to use "fast-track" procedures. 

Fast-track procedures limit debate and prohibit, or severely restrict, amendments. They have been used most often when considering trade agreements.

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Federalism

A system of government in which some powers are delegated to either the national or a state government, while other powers are shared between the two levels.

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Field Hearings

Hearings held "on location" by a committee or subcommittee away from Washington, D.C.

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Filibuster

The term used for an extended debate in the Senate which has the effect of preventing a vote. It works to prevent a vote because the Senate's rules contain no motion to force a vote. A vote occurs only when debate ends naturally.

The word comes from the early 19th century Spanish and Portuguese pirates, "filibusteros", who held ships hostage for ransom. When a Senator filibusters, he/she holds the chamber hostage until it meets his/her conditions.

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Final Passage

The final vote in the House or in the Senate, which either approves or rejects a bill.

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First Amendment

The first change adopted to the Constitution. It protects the basic freedoms of U.S. citizens, such as the right to practice religion, to speak freely, to publish news and to communicate without censorship.

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First Reading

A stage of the legislative process when a bill is introduced, before referral to a committee for study. In contemporary practice, bills are no longer read aloud when introduced. First reading dates back to the very early English parliamentary practice when bills had to be read aloud because many delegates could not read.

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Fiscal Year

The annual budget cycle for the federal government begins on October 1 of a given year, and ends on September 30 of the next. 

For example, fiscal year 2004, or "FY '04" began on Oct. 1, 2003, and will end on Sept. 30, 2004.

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Floor

Members of Congress call the space where the House or Senate debate and vote "the floor," more formally known as the House or Senate chamber.

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Floor Manager

The Member of Congress responsible for guiding a bill through floor debate and the amending process up to the vote on final passage. Floor managers allocate debate time and make sure all opposition gets answered in the debate. 

The chairman of the committee or subcommittee that had considered the bill acts as the floor manager for the majority side and the top ranking member of the minority party on that committee or subcommittee serves as the minority"s manager.

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G

Galleries

The balconies overlooking the House and Senate chambers. There are separate seating sections for the public, press, staff, and family members.

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GAO

Stands for the General Accounting Office. It audits federal agencies and programs and conducts studies for Congress.

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GOP

Stands for "Grand Old Party," meaning the Republican party. The term originated in the late 1870's, coined by newspaper headlines, to refer to the dominance of the Republican party at the time.

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Germane

The technical term for "relevant." Amendments are either germane or non-germane to a bill.

In most circumstances, the Senate does not require germaneness. Senate rules permit Senators to offer amendments on any subject even if unrelated to the bill's topic.

The House requires germaneness of amendment at all times unless an exception is made by special rule.

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GPO

Stands for the Government Printing Office. GPO prints laws, bills, committee reports, and other congressional documents. GPO sells these documents to the public through their website and in GPO bookstores. It also distributes an allotted number of them to Members of Congress to send their constituents free of charge.

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H

H. R.

Stands for House of Representatives. It designates a measure as a bill (e.g. H.R. 1300.) It becomes law if passed by both the House and Senate, and approved by the President.

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H. RES.

Stands for House Resolution. This type of measure affects only the House and does not make law. It does not go to the Senate nor to the President.

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Hearing

A meeting of a committee or subcommittee to take testimony from invited witnesses and to question them on their support or opposition to a bill or on their knowledge of a matter under consideration. 

Legislative hearings may focus on a specific bill, or bills, or just explore a subject matter in general to see if legislation is necessary. Investigative hearings look into allegations of wrong-doing. Oversight hearings review a federal agency or department"s performance.

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Hold

A Senate practice: when a private objection from one or more senators prevents a matter from being scheduled for debate. Holds are meant as a sign of serious opposition to the majority leader, but they are not binding on him. He may schedule the matter anyway and risk a filibuster, or he may choose to honor the hold for a period of time.

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Hopper

The mahogany box on the House rostrum where Members place bills they are introducing. In the Senate, there is no box. Senators hand their bill to a clerk at the rostrum.

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Houses [of Congress]

A reference to the "two houses" of Congress: the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the singular, "house" may refer to either chamber. In the singular, "House" refers to the House of Representatives.

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I

Ideology

A Member's political philosophy and personal attitudes toward government.

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Immunity, Congressional

Protection in the U.S. Constitution granted Members of Congress in their speech on the House or Senate floor. Members of Congress are therefore able to speak freely in debate and may not be sued for slander or libel.

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Immunity, Witness

Witnesses testifying before congressional committees may receive immunity by act of Congress from prosecution in the courts for anything they might say to Congress. Without it, many witnesses will invoke their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and refuse to answer a committee"s questions.

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Impeachment

A formal charge of malfeasance in office, treason, or criminality raised against the President, other federal official, or federal judge [but not against a Member of Congress. See "expulsion."]

Only the House of Representatives may bring an impeachment against an official, while only the Senate may try and convict the accused.

Conviction requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate and results in removal of the official from his office.

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Incumbent

Refers to the official currently holding a public office. In congressional races, the sitting Member of Congress running for re-election may be referred to as the incumbent and his/her opponent as the challenger.

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Inside the Beltway

The beltway is an interstate highway encircling Washington, DC and passing through the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. 

Some issues and events are described as "Inside the Beltway" meaning they are only of interest to government officials or Washington, DC residents.

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J

Joint Committee

A committee shared by the House and Senate, with an equal number of House and Senate members serving on it. Joint committees do not consider and report legislation. Instead they have administrative duties, or conduct research and issue studies and reports.

There are 4 current joint committees: the Joint Committee on Printing, which oversees the Government Printing Office; the Joint Committee on the Library, which oversees the Library of Congress, the Joint Committee on Taxation, which provides expert tax code analysis to the Congress, and the Joint Economic Committee, which studies long term economic trends.

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Joint Meeting

When the House and Senate assemble together to hear a speech by a dignitary, usually a foreign official.

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Joint Resolution

A type of bill which can become an Amendment to the Constitution or become a public law. Joint resolutions must pass both the House and Senate. If written as an Amendment to the Constitution, it must be approved by " of the states to take effect. If written as a public law, it must be signed or vetoed by the President.

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Journal [House or Senate]

The U.S. Constitution requires both the House and Senate to keep an official Journal of its proceedings - akin to the minutes of a meeting. Each chamber has a Journal Clerk, who notes all of its official actions during a day"s session, such as roll call votes, and motions and amendments adopted. 

Unlike the Congressional Record, however, the Journal does not contain the words spoken in debate.

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Jurisdiction

The subject areas of responsibility assigned a congressional committee by the standing rules and precedents of the full House or Senate.

For example, the House Ways and Means Committee studies and recommends legislation in its area of jurisdiction: income tax changes, export/import duties and tariffs, trade agreements, the public debt, social security, and medicare. 

The jurisdiction list of each committee covers legislation, investigations, oversight of executive agencies in that subject area, and [in the case of the Senate] nominations of individuals to executive branch positions within that category.

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K

K Street

The downtown Washington, D.C. avenue where many lobbyists and lawyers have offices.

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Killer Amendment

A politically distasteful or difficult amendment which is offered to a bill in order to diminish its chances for final passage or to attract a Presidential veto.

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King of the Hill

A type of special rule from the House Rules Committee that permits only one amendment of a series of amendments adopted on the House floor to prevail. 
The others fall aside, even if adopted. 

"King of the Hill" rules stack the amendments in a specific order so that only the last amendment that is adopted prevails in the end.

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L

Lame Duck

Members of Congress who are finishing out their current term but who were not re-elected and will not return in the next Congress.

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Law

Legislation passed by both the House and Senate in identical form and signed by the President, or passed over his veto. 

Public Laws affect the nation as a whole; Private Laws affect only one individual or legal entity [such as a single corporation].

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Legislation

 

Measures considered by Congress, such as bills, resolutions, joint resolutions, and laws.

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Legislative Assistant

 

The staff member - L.A. for short - responsible for monitoring the status of legislation, drafting legislative statements for his/her Member, preparing legislation and amendments for introduction, soliciting and keeping track of legislative co-sponsors, and meeting with lobbyists and constituents who are interested in the issues.

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Legislative Correspondent

 

The staff member - L.C. for short - who answers correspondence and e-mails from constituents, lobbyists, and others. Members get so much mail that many have 2 or more LC"s to keep up with it. 

Hundreds of letters and e-mails often come in on the same issue. LC"s draft a standard response to use to answer mail on the same subject. LC"s also prepare summaries for their Members of how much mail they got on specific issues and the views that were expressed.

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Legislative History

Refers to the chronology of steps a bill takes as it winds its way through the legislative process.

Legislative History also refers to the collection of documents generated by committees and floor debate on the bill, such as bill versions and committee reports. Federal agencies and the courts review that history to verify Congressional intent behind the bill.

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Legislator

An elected official who serves in the legislative branch of his/her state government [the state legislature], or in the legislative branch of the federal government [the U.S. Congress]. Legislators represent an assigned group of citizens in the legislature, and help make laws for the state or for the nation.

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Liberal

A person who generally supports expanded governmental programs to help solve social problems, and favors political reform and social change.

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Lobbyist

Individuals who represent the cause of a group, organization, association, or industry " or just themselves - and express those views to Members of Congress and/or congressional committees considering legislation in their areas of interest. Lobbyists must formally register with the Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate and reveal how much money they spent in lobbying.

The term comes from the first years of Congress, when many Members of Congress lived in hotels during congressional sessions. People seeking to influence legislation would hang out in the lobby of the hotels seeking to speak to the Members as they came and went.

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M

Mace

The ebony and silver rod on the House rostrum which symbolizes the authority of the House. As its custodian, the Sergeant-at-Arms carries it into the House chamber at the start of each day's session.

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Mark-up

A committee meeting when the original bill is "marked up" by amendments [changes to the original text]. Members debate and vote on the amendments before any changes are made. 

Mark-Ups usually end with a vote to report the bill out of committee to the full House or Senate floor for further consideration.

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Majority Leader/Minority Leader

The member of Congress elected by the majority or minority party to be that party"s principal spokesman and legislative strategist. The Majority and Minority Leaders are assisted by a team of assistants, also members of Congress, who are known as party "whips".

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Majority Vote

The number required for passage of most bills and amendments. It amounts to " of the membership plus one. If a committee has 20 Members, a majority vote would be 11. The full House has 435 Members. A majority vote would be 218. The Senate has 100 Members. A majority vote would be 51.

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Members

Short-hand for "Members of Congress," the individuals serving as senators or representatives in Congress.

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Motions

A proposal to take a parliamentary action on the House or Senate floor, or in committee. Motions require a vote before they take effect. Example: "Mr. Speaker, I move the House do now adjourn."

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N

Nominee

A candidate for a high level executive branch position, appointed by the President of the United States--and subject to a confirmation vote by the U.S. Senate. Examples are candidates to serve as Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet Members, Ambassadors.

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Non-Germane

A Senate term for an amendment not of the same subject matter as the bill to which it is offered. Sometimes referred to as "riders." While Senate rules permit non-germane amendments most of the time, the House requires germaneness at all times.

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Not Voting

Indicates that a Member neither voted nor abstained formally from voting. It suggests (but does not confirm) that the Member was absent. Members who wish to formally abstain from a vote, vote "present."

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O

Objection

A single objection from any Member on the floor prevents a unanimous consent request from taking effect, or prevents a bill from being passed "without objection."

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OMB

OMB stands for the Office of Management and Budget, a federal agency. OMB prepares the President's budget plan to Congress and provides him with economic forecasts. Its equivalent in the U.S. Congress is CBO, the Congressional Budget Office.

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Omnibus Bill

Legislation which packages together several measures into one bill, or combines diverse subjects into a single bill. Examples are budget reconciliation bills, combined appropriations bills, and private relief and claims bills.

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One-Minutes

House speeches given by Representatives at the start of each day"s session, before legislative business begins. Members may speak on any subject they wish, but for no longer than one minute.

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Other Body

The phrase House and Senate Members use when referring to each other's chamber.

It is based on the fact that the United States Congress is a bi-cameral ("two body") legislature.

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Override [Vote to]

The right of the House and Senate to pass a bill again over the objections of the President. 

For the bill to become law, both chambers must vote by a 2/3 margin to override the President"s veto. If all Members are present, that means 290 votes in the House and 67 votes in the Senate are required to override an veto.

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Oversight

The responsibility of Congress to supervise the way the funds it appropriated are spent and the programs it authorized are implemented. 

This review of a federal agency or department"s performance can take place formally in oversight hearings or informally through meetings, written correspondence, and site visits.

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P

Pages

Pages are high-school age students who perform messenger and other duties for Members of Congress.

Pages are required to attend daily classes, live in supervised dorms, and work in shifts on the floor.

For eligibility criteria, see:http://gopher.house.gov/ramstad/constituents/pages/pageprogram.htm.

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Parliamentarian

Both the House and Senate have their own Parliamentarian and a team of assistant Parliamentarians. They advise the presiding officers and committee chairs on rules and procedures. 

A Parliamentarian is always present at the House or Senate rostrum to aid the Chair with any procedural or decorum problem. Parliamentarians are available to advise individual Members on technical matters, or to review motions and amendments before they are offered. In both chambers, the Parliamentarian decide referrals of a new bill to the appropriate committee for consideration, based on the rules and precedents of that body.

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Partisan

Someone affiliated with, or partial to, a particular political party.  Partisans argue in favor of their party"s position, and seek to protect its interests.

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Pigeonhole

To pigeonhole a bill is to, figuratively, place it in a cubbyhole and leave it there - an expression once routinely used when committees sidelined bills by refusing to report them to the full House or Senate for final consideration. The expression is rarely used in contemporary practice. Now, committees are said to "bottle up" a bill.

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Point of Order

A point of order is made during floor proceedings to assert that the rules of procedure are being violated. A point of order halts proceedings while the presiding officer rules on whether or not it is valid.

In the Senate, the chair's ruling may be appealed by any Senator, and the chair has been frequently overturned.

In the House, appeals are also possible, but rarely made and even more rarely succeed.

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Pork Barrel

The term began as a political reference in the post-Civil War era. It comes from the plantation practice of distributing rations of salt pork to slaves from wooden barrels.

When used to describe a bill, it implies the legislation is loaded with special projects for Members of Congress to distribute to their constituents back home, courtesy of the federal taxpayer.

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President of the Senate

The presiding officer of the Senate - under the U.S. Constitution, the Vice President of the United States is designated to perform this role.

In actual practice, the Vice President does not attend the Senate very often. Instead the presiding duties are performed by a designated substitute, either the President pro Tempore of the Senate or a majority party Senator filling in for a while in the chair.

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President Pro Tempore [or Pro Tem]

A Latin phrase meaning "President for the time being." In the absence of the President of the Senate, the Constitution provides for the appointment of a President Pro Tempore, or substitute presiding officer. 

The Senate confers this office on its most senior majority party Senator. In addition to presiding, there are some ceremonial duties that come with the position.

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Presiding Officer

In the Senate, a majority party senator who presides over the floor for a shift of about one hour. The chair is addressed as "Mr. President." First-term senators serve in the chair most often. 

In the House, the Speaker, or a majority party representative designated to be his substitute, who presides over floor proceedings, usually for several hours at a time. He/she is addressed as "Mr. Speaker." Experienced senior Members are chosen to preside over contentious debates, and first-term representatives serve in more routine periods of the day.

The duties of the chair in both the House and Senate include keeping order, recognizing members to speak, and ruling on procedure.

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Press Secretary/Communications Director

The staffer responsible for a Member of Congress" relationship with the local and the national media. 

Press secretaries monitor the press coverage of their Member, respond to requests for information or interviews from reporters, volunteer their Member for media appearances, promote their Member"s legislation and other initiatives to the media, and draft their Member"s press releases and newspaper columns.

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Private Law

Legislation enacted to benefit only an individual person or individual legal entity, such as a corporation, but not the nation as a whole.

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Professional Staff Member

Used by committees and subcommittees as a title for any committee staffer above the clerical rank. Professional staff can be legal counsels, legislative analysts, or investigators.

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Public Law

Legislation enacted which governs the entire nation. Public laws are designated as "P.L." and numbered in sequence. For example P.L. 108-10 means the 10th law enacted by the 108th Congress.

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Public Policy

A decision, law, or other action of government that addresses societal problems and issues. Some policies are passed into laws by Congress, and some policies are contained in rules and regulations issued by federal governmental agencies.

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Q

Queen of the Hill

 

A type of special rule from the House Rules Committee that permits only one amendment of a series of amendments adopted on the House floor to prevail. 
The others fall aside, even if adopted. 

"Queen of the Hill" rules specify that only the amendment with the largest margin of victory prevails in the end.

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Quorum Call

 

A quorum call seeks to bring a majority of Members to the floor to record their presence.

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Quorum - House

The number of House Members who must be present before business may be conducted. A quorum in the House requires the presence of 218, while 100 are needed when the House meets as a Committee of the Whole.

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Quorum - Senate

The number of Senators (51) who must be present before business may be conducted. However, the Senate often conducts daily business without a quorum present unless challenged by a point of order.

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R

Ranking Majority Member

 

The majority party Member on a committee who is next in seniority to the chairman. The ranking majority member may take over the gavel and preside when the chairman is absent.

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Ranking Member

 

The minority party Member of a committee or subcommittee with the most seniority who takes the lead for his party on committee business.

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Ratification by States

 

Approval of an Amendment to the Constitution by at least 38 states. The legislatures of each state take a vote on whether or not the state should ratify a proposed constitutional Amendment.

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Recess

 

(1) A temporary break of minutes or hours during a day"s legislative session.
(2) An overnight break to end a day"s session [does not displace the pending business as an adjournment might].
(3) A break of several days or weeks during an annual session of Congress - primarily for holidays.

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Recognition

 

When the presiding officer grants permission to a Member to speak on the floor. Members may not speak without first obtaining recognition.

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Recorded Vote

 

A vote for the record. A Member"s position - in support or opposition - is recorded next to his/her name. Sometimes also called "the yeas and nays."

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Referred to Committee

When a bill gets sent to one of the 20 committees of the House or Senate for closer examination. Committees may choose to hold hearings on a bill, may mark-up its text making changes to the language, may vote to send it to the full chamber for a vote, or they may choose to do nothing and let it die in Committee.

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Regular Order

The House, and especially the Senate, sometimes expedite legislative action by setting aside the regular rules of procedure and taking a short cut. A call for the "regular order" from a Member on the floor, is a request to the presiding officer to restore the regular order of procedure to the proceedings.

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Report Out

Refers to the action of a committee which sends a bill to the full House or Senate for further review and possible passage. A majority vote of the committee is required to report the bill to the floor.

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Resolutions

A type of legislation, technically different from a "bill."

(1) Joint Resolutions [H.J.Res. or S.J. Res] become law and must be passed by both the House and Senate. This form is used most often for amendments to the Constitution, expressions of congressional opinion ["sense of Congress" resolutions], and appropriations bills.

(2) Simple Resolutions [H.Res. or S.Res.] do not become law and are passed by only one house. Used most often to take an action within the one chamber, e.g. create a new committee, or to express the opinion of that one chamber ["sense of the Senate," for example].

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Revenue Bill

Legislation which raises money for the federal Treasury, e.g. through taxes, user fees, customs duties, and tariffs.

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Revise and Extend

A phrase used by House Members to ask permission of the chamber to revise their remarks in the Congressional Record, and extend them by inserting material additional to their spoken words, such as newspaper editorials, articles, or correspondence. Permission is routinely granted.

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Rider

Name for an amendment to a bill which is unrelated to the subject of the bill. The unrelated amendment is "riding" its way to law on the back of another bill. The correct parliamentary term for an unrelated amendment is "non-germane" amendment.

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Rule, special

Special rules are different from the regular standing rules of the House. They are drafted and issued by the House Rules Committee. They set the terms for the debate and regulate how amendments can be offered to a specific bill on the House floor. Their authority ends when that particular bill"s consideration has ended.

The Senate has no comparable process.

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Rule, to grant

The House Rules Committee "grants" a rule to a bill paving the way for it to be debated and amended on the floor by the full House. These special rules are drafted and approved by the House Rules Committee, and set the conditions for length of debate and order and restrictions, if any, on amendments to be offered to that particular bill. The full House must adopt the rule by a majority vote before it can take effect.

There is no comparable committee or action in the Senate.

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Rules, House

The House has 28 permanent standing rules which govern its procedures. Authority for legislative procedural action in the House also comes from other sources, such as several volumes of precedents, rulemaking provisions of certain public laws, and the U.S. Constitution.

Contrary to popular belief, Robert"s Rules of Order have no authority in the House of Representatives. The system of rules and precedents used in the House are unique to the institution, having evolved over 200 years of House practice.

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Rules, Senate

The Senate has 43 permanent rules governing its procedures. Authority for legislative procedural action in the Senate also comes from other sources, such as a volume of precedents, rulemaking provisions of certain public laws, and the U.S. Constitution.

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S

S.

 

Stands for Senate, and designates a measure introduced in the Senate as a bill (e.g. S. 310.) Bills become law if passed by both houses of Congress and approved by the President.

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S. RES.

 

Stands for Senate Resolution. It affects only the Senate, and does not become law. It does not go to the House nor to the President.

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Scheduler

 

A staffer who makes, changes, and cancels all meetings and appointments for a Member. Receives and responds to all invitations that come into the office. Makes travel arrangements for a Member"s official travel back and forth from Washington, D.C. to the home state. Prepares a daily schedule for the Member to follow. Members have such demands made on their time that this is a full-time position in most offices.

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Second Degree

 

Refers to an amendment offered to change the text of another amendment.

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Second Reading

 

A stage of the legislative process when a bill has left the committee to which it was referred, and is presented to the full House for debate and amendment. In contemporary practice, bills are rarely read aloud at this stage. Instead, the House Reading Clerk just designates each title of the bill as open for amendment. 

The Senate places second reading at an earlier stage of the process: at the time a bill is referred to committee. Bills are no longer read aloud at this stage, unless a Senator demands it for purposes of delay.

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Select or Special Committee

 

Select or special committee are interchangeable terms for panels that are established to investigate a specific matter or study an assigned area. For the most part, they are not meant to be permanent fixtures but are created to work on a current problem, and have a temporary life span. Special/select committees are sometimes given the authority to consider and report legislation but most often they are limited to investigations and studies.

At present, the House has 1 select committee; the Senate has 4.

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Sergeant-At-Arms

 

The officer who maintains order in the chamber and provides security for its members. The House and Senate each have their own Sgt.-at-Arms.

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Special Interest Group

 

Organizations or associations which represent a specific community of people. Examples are labor unions, retired persons, teachers, insurance agents, doctors, farmers, trial lawyers, or an ethnic or religious community. Corporations and specific industries also organize to protect their interests. Examples are automakers, tobacco growers, agri-businesses, or cable companies.

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Speaker of the House

 

The presiding officer in the House of Representatives. The Speaker is responsible both for the day-to-day functions of the House, and for advancing the legislative agenda of his political party. The U.S. Constitution names the Speaker as 2nd in the line of succession to the Presidency, after the Vice-President.

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Special Orders

 

The name given speeches Members of the House are permitted to give at the end of a day"s legislative business. Time for a speech must be reserved in advance and may be anywhere from 5 minutes to one hour in length and on any subject a Member wishes to address.

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Sponsor

 

A Member of Congress who writes a bill and offers it for legislative consideration. The sponsor seeks co-sponsors and these Members together promote the bill and seek to have it considered and win votes for it.

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Staff Director

 

The top staff position on a committee or subcommittee. The staff director reports directly to the chair of the committee, is responsible for managing the committee"s professional and clerical staff and its budget, advising the chair on legislative priorities and hearing topics, and mediating political disputes among committee members.

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Standing Committee

 

Permanent panels of the House and Senate, without a date set for their termination. There are about 20 standing committees in each chamber, with each assigned a specific area of legislative responsibility, known as jurisdiction.

Standing committees can also conduct investigations and practice supervisory oversight over federal programs, agencies, and departments whose responsibilities are part of the committee"s subject matter jurisdiction.

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State Legislature

 

The assembly of men and women who debate and write the laws for a single state, like the United States Congress does for the nation.

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Statement for the Record

 

(1) Witnesses in committee hearings are often asked to submit their complete testimony "for the record" and only deliver a summary of it in person. The full statement will then appear in a printed volume of the hearing.

(2) On the House or Senate floor, members request permission to submit a statement into the Congressional Record to appear in the section containing the debate that was held on a bill. They do so to make their position clear, even if they missed attending the debate or if they ran out of debate time and were not able to give their entire speech in person.

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Subcommittee

 

A smaller panel created by a full committee to specialize in specific aspects of the full committee"s jurisdiction. Most committees of the House and Senate have an average of 4 subcommittees to divide up their workload.

Subcommittees do the preliminary work of reviewing proposed legislation and making recommendations to the full committee on whether or not the legislation should progress. They cannot make final decisions on their own, but must have full committee approval.

Members of Congress assigned to serve on a full committee are further assigned to membership on one or more of its subcommittees and are expected to specialize in the subject matter assigned to that subcommittee.

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T

Third Party

Any political party other than the two political parties which have dominated the American electoral system: the Democrats [founded in the 1820's] and the Republicans [founded in 1854]. 

Current third parties include the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, the Natural Law Party, and the Reform Party. 

The highest percentage of the popular vote ever won by a third party was 27.4% by the Progressive Party candidate for President in 1912.

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Table, motion to

In both the House and Senate, a motion to table, if adopted by a majority vote, ends any further debate and permanently kills the pending matter.

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Third Reading

A stage of the legislative process when the House or Senate have completed floor debate and amendment and are ready to vote on final passage. The bill, as amended, is rarely read aloud at this point. Its official short title is read aloud instead. In the Senate, a Senator on rare occasions may demand a full reading for purposes of delay.

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Tie Vote

A tie vote results in the question losing. The only exception is on the Senate floor. There, a tie may be broken by vote of the Vice-President. If he is not present to break the tie, the question loses.

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Time Agreement

An agreement negotiated among Senators to restrict debate on a bill or an amendment or motion. Without a voluntary restriction, debate in the Senate is unlimited in most circumstances. To take effect, a time agreement must receive unanimous consent.

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Town Meeting

Town meetings are scheduled in one or more towns whenever a Representative or Senator travels back to his District or State. Town meetings are held to give constituents an opportunity to hear the Member speak about his activities and voting record in Washington, D.C. and to give a chance for the general public to ask questions, state their own views, or ask for assistance from their elected representative.

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Two-thirds Vote

The number required for adoption of an Amendment to the Constitution, and to override a veto of a regular bill by the President. The House has 435 Members. If all are present, a 2/3 vote would require 290 Members to vote one way. The Senate has 100 Members; a 2/3 vote would require 67 Senators.

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U

Unfunded Mandate

A requirement imposed by Congress by law on state or local governments with no additional funding to pay for its implementation.

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Unanimous Consent

When all Members on the floor agree, or consent, to a pending request. Unless there is an objection, no vote is required.

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Union Calendar

The list of bills available for consideration in the House of Representatives, meeting as a Committee of the Whole.

Bills are referred to the Union Calendar if they directly or indirectly deal with money.

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U.S. Code

The compilation of all current federal laws, arranged under 50 subject titles. The code, or U.S.C., is revised about every six years.

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V

Veto

The action taken by the President returning a bill to Congress with a message explaining why he refuses to sign it into law. To override his veto and allow the bill to become law anyway, both the House and Senate must pass the bill again, but this time with a 2/3 vote - if all are present that is 290 votes in the House and 67 votes in the Senate.

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Veto-Proof

Describes those votes with a margin sufficient to override a veto, should it occur. Since a 2/3 vote is required to override, a veto-proof majority is 290 in the House and 67 in the Senate.

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Vitiate

A parliamentary action taken in the Senate to cancel, invalidate, annul, or rescind a previous vote or parliamentary action.

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Voice Vote

A type of vote during which Members say "aye" aloud as a group, followed by the group saying "no."

The presiding officer decides which group was the loudest and announces the result. No names are recorded. Members who do not agree with the Chair's call, may request a recorded vote.

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Vote

When Members of the House or Senate decide a matter, letting a majority opinion prevail. Members vote by voice, by call of the roll, by a recorded vote using electronic machinery [in the House only], or by standing and being counted as "the yeas," followed by the "nays."

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Voting Bloc

A group of members with a common interest who tend to vote alike on an issue.

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W

War Powers Act

A 1973 law that requires the President to consult with Congress before deploying troops abroad.

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Well

The open space between the rostrum and the Members' seats on the House and Senate floors.

House Members usually speak from podiums located in the well, while Senators speak from their assigned desks.

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Whip

The whip [majority or minority] is a Member elected by his/her political party to count potential votes for the party leaders, and promote party unity in upcoming votes.

Whips send out notices to the Members in their party about the floor schedule, provide them with copies of bills and reports, and send out leadership advisories stating the party"s positions on issues coming up for debate.

As a verb, "to whip," means to count heads for an upcoming vote.

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Without Objection

The way the Chair expresses an action taken by unanimous consent on the House or Senate floor, or in committee. "Without objection, so ordered." Unanimous consent can approve an action, agree to an amendment, or adopt a measure without a vote being held - if there is no objection.

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Witness

The name given anyone invited to appear before a congressional committee to answer questions and/or share their expertise.

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Words Taken Down

A House procedure used to discipline a member for using inappropriate words in debate. After the words are "taken down" by the clerk and read back, the Chair rules on their suitability. If ruled inappropriate for a parliamentary proceeding, the member may not speak again on the same day without permission of the House.

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Y

Yeas and Nays

The name given the only kind of roll call vote in the U.S. Senate. In the House, a "yea and nay" vote is a specific type of vote, from among several types of recorded votes.

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Yield for a Question

Yielding only for a question allows a Member to keep the floor while allowing another colleague to speak briefly.

The yielded time should be used for a question and not a statement, but this is not always enforced.

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Yield the Floor

When Members finish speaking before their time has expired, they often say, "I yield the floor," to signal they are through and another Member may now seek recognition to speak.

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Z

Zero-based Budgeting

Requires that a program be justified from the ground up each fiscal year.

An alternative is to use the previous funding level for a program as the basis for further adjustments - usually upward.

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