Glossary of Legislative Terms

A | B | C | D | E | F | J | M | P | Q | R | S | T | U | W

A


Act: A bill or measure after it passes one or both chambers. Also used to denote a law in place.

Adjournment: To end a legislative day. Recess does not end a legislative day.

Adjournment sine die: To adjourn without setting a time to meet again. It denotes the end of a Congressional session.

Advice and Consent: The constitutionally-based power of the Senate to advise the president and give consent to proposed treaties and presidential appointments.

Amendment: A proposal to change a bill, a motion, an act, or the Constitution.

Apportionment: Allocation of legislative seats by law. The 435 seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned to states based on population.

Appropriation: Legislation that provides funds for a specific purpose.

Authorization: A legislative action establishing a program and general amounts of money to fund the program. An appropriation provides the funds.

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B


Bill: A proposed law.

Budget: The president's annual proposal to Congress. Legislation anticipating revenue and expenditures by the federal or state government for the upcoming fiscal year.

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C


Calendar: List of bills or resolutions to be considered by a committee, the House, or the Senate.

Caucus: The meeting of members of a political party, usually to decide policy or select members to fill positions. Also, the group of members themselves.

Committee of the Whole: Business is expedited in the 435-member House of Representatives or the complete legislature when it resolves itself to the "Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union." Rules are relaxed and a quorum is easier to obtain. The committee may be composed of a minimum of 100 members.

Conferees: Members of a conference committee, which is composed of senators and representatives, named to work out differences between same-subject bills passed by both chambers.

Congressional Record: The printed, daily account of debates, votes, and comments in the House and Senate published by the U.S. Government Printing Office.

Congressional Review: Congress' right to examine federal regulations before they become effective.

Continuing Resolution: Legislation providing continued funding for a federal department or program, usually at the previous fiscal-year level. A continuing resolution is used when Congress has failed to pass a necessary appropriations bill for a new fiscal year.

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D


Discretionary Funds: Grant funds that the secretary or director of a federal agency (or state agency) can award for purposes he or she chooses, without publishing annual funding priorities.

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E


Enacting Clause: The initial language in a bill saying "Be it enacted." To kill a bill, a member will move to "strike the enacting clause."

Engrossed Bill: Official copy of a bill passed by the House and Senate.

Executive Session: A meeting closed to the public.

Extension of Remarks: Material inserted by a senator or representative in the Congressional Record. It is not spoken on the floor.

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F


Federal Register: The federal government's daily publication of final regulations, proposed regulations, funding priorities, grant applications deadlines, meetings, and other notices announced by federal agencies and offices, published by the U.S. Government Printing Office.

Filibuster: Talking and debating a bill in an effort to change or kill it. Easier in the Senate than the House because of the Senate's more relaxed rules controlling debate.

Fiscal Year: A 12-month period for using federal funds, beginning October 1.

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J


Joint Committee: A committee of senators and representatives.

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M


Majority Leader: Leader of the majority party in either the House or the Senate. In the House, second in command to the Speaker.

Markup: The section-by-section review and revision of a bill by committee members.

Minority Leader: Leader of the minority party in either the House or the Senate.

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P


Point of Order: An objection by a senator or representative that a rule is being violated.

Previous Question: By a motion to "move the previous question," a representative seeks to end debate and bring an issue to a vote. Senators do not have this debate-limiting device.

Private Bill: Bills that provide for special treatment for an individual or business entity. Such bills are subject to presidential veto.

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Q


Quorum: The number of members of a legislative body who must be present before business may be conducted.

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R


Ranking Member: Member of the majority party on a committee who ranks first in seniority after the chair.

Ranking Minority Member: The senior member (in terms of service) of the minority party on a committee.

Resolution: A formal statement of a decision or opinion by the House or Senate or both. A simple resolution is made by one chamber and generally deals with that chamber's rules or prerogatives. A concurrent resolution is presented in both chambers and usually expresses a Congressional view on a matter not within Congressional jurisdiction. A joint resolution also requires approval in both chambers and goes to the president for approval. Simple and concurrent resolutions do not go to the president.

Rider: A provision added to a bill so it may "ride" to approval on the strength of the bill. Generally, riders are placed on appropriations bills. Also known as "pork barrel" legislation.

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S


Speaker: Speaker of the House of Representatives. Presides over the House. Elected, in effect, by the majority party in the House. Next in line of succession to the presidency after the vice president.

Suspend the Rules: A motion in the House intended to bring a bill to a vote quickly.

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T


Table a Bill: A motion to, in effect, put a bill aside and thereby remove it from consideration or kill it.

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U


Unanimous Consent: A time-saving procedure for non-controversial measures whereby measures are adopted without a vote. A member simply says "I ask unanimous consent for..." and states the proposal.

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W


Whip: A legislator who is chosen to be assistant to the leader of the party. Whips are chosen in both the House and the Senate.

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