Glossary of Congressional Terms
Act – Legislation that has passed both Houses and was signed by the President, thus becoming a law.
Adjournment Sine Die – The final adjournment of Congress. Bills not already enacted die and must be reintroduced in the next Congress.
Amendment – Change or modify a bill or motion by striking out, adding or substituting language.
Appropriations Bill – A bill reported out of the House or Senate Appropriations Committee, which assigns government funds to a program.
Authorization Bill – A bill reported out of an authorizing committee (e.g. House Public Works & Transportation Committee) which authorizes a government program and recommends the funds necessary to finance it.
Bill – A legislative proposal introduced by a Member of Congress. Bills are designated as H.R. (House of Representatives) or S. (Senate) according to the body in which they are introduced, and assigned numbers according to the order in which they are introduced.
Bill Referral – When a bill is introduced, the presiding officer of the body in which it is introduced is empowered to assign the legislation to a committee of jurisdiction for consideration. The guidelines for bill referrals are spelled out in Senate and House rules.
Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 – The law in which Congress changed its budget process; the Act also created the Congressional Budget Office and the House and Senate Budget Committees.
Budget Committees – Each House has a Budget Committee that coordinates spending legislation and formulates the overall congressional budget.
Budget Resolutions – Concurrent resolution of the House and Senate, which prescribes spending limits in the various areas of government activity.
Calendar – An agenda for pending legislative business.
Chairperson – The presiding officer.
Clean Bill – After a major revision a bill goes through the markup process, the chairman assembles changes and the remainder of original bill into a new measure and introduces it as a “clean bill.” The new measure, which carries a new number, is then sent to the floor for consideration.
Clerk of the House – Chief administrative officer of the House. Same as Secretary`, of the Senate.
Closed Rule – A rule granted by the House Rules Committee which prohibits amendments to a particular bill during House floor action. Under a “closed rule,” the House must either accept or reject the bill as recommended by the sponsoring committee.
Cloture – The procedure by which a filibuster can be ended in the Senate. Cloture requires the signatures of 16 Senators and the votes of three-fifths (60) of the entire Senate membership.
Committee of the Whole – To expedite its business, the House may resort to this parliamentarv device, which enables it to act with a quorum of 100 instead of the normally required 218. The House itself becomes a “Committee” and is assisted by the Parliamentarian. All debate is confined to the pending bill. After it has considered a bill as a “Committee of the Whole,” the “Committee” is dissolved and the House then takes up the bill for final action.
Companion Bills – Identical bills introduced in each house for the purpose of expediting passage by substituting the one that passed first for the other.
Concurrent Resolution – Must be passed by both houses, does not require the President’s signature and does not have the force of law.
Conference Committee – A special committee formed to reconcile differences between differing versions of a bill passed by the House and Senate. Conference Committee members are appointed from the committees of jurisdiction in each House.
Congressional Budget Office – Created by the Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974. Non-partisan office that provides the House and Senate with budget-related information and analyses of alternative fiscal policies.
Congressional Record – The daily printed account of the proceedings of the House and Senate. Members may “revise and extend” remarks, thereby editing the floor remarks.
Continuing Resolution – If Congress has not enacted all the necessary appropriations bills when a fiscal year begins, it passes a joint resolution continuing appropriations to fund the government until the appropriations bills can be enacted into law.
Earmark – To specify funds in an appropriations bill for a particular purpose.
Enacting Clause – Key phrase in bills saying, “Be it enacted by the Senate and House. . .” A successful motion to strike the enacting clause from legislation kills the measure.
Enrolled Bill – Final copy of a bill that has passed the House and Senate in identical form.
Executive Session – A closed meeting of a Senate or House Committee.
Expenditures – The actual spending of money as distinguished from its appropriation. The administration makes expenditures; Congress votes appropriations. The two are rarely identical in any fiscal year, for expenditures may represent money appropriated in previous years.
Filibuster – A device used only in the Senate to delay or prevent a vote by time-consuming talk. Requires invoking cloture to halt it.
Fiscal Year – Financial operations of the government are carried out in a 12-month fiscal year, beginning on October 1 and ending on September 30 of the following year.
General Accounting Office – Independent, non-political agency in the legislative branch. Serves as the investigating agency for Congress, carries out legal, accounting and auditing functions, makes recommendations for more effective government operations.
Germane – Pertaining to the purpose of the bill in question.
Gramm-Rudman-Hollings – A deficit reduction bill passed in 1985 that forced Congress to reduce the deficit by $36 billion a year, for 5 years (1986 2991), until it reached zero. Because Congress was unable to meet the original targets, Congress revised the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law in 1987, extending the deficit reduction bill through 1993 in order to reach a zero deficit.
H.R. – Stands for House of Representatives and designates a bill originating in the House.
HJ. Res. – Designates a House Joint Resolution. Either an H.R. or and HJ. Res. becomes a law when passed by both Houses and signed by the President. In practice, a bill and a joint resolution are interchangeable.
H. Con. Res. – Designates a House Concurrent Resolution, which must be approved by both Houses. It does not require the President’s signature and it does not have the force of law.. It is generally used to express Congressional sentiment.
H. Res. – Designates a simple House Resolution, the authority of which extends only to the House itself and does not have the force of law. Used to change House rules and express House views.
Hearings – House and Senate Committee sessions in which testimony regarding legislation is received from interested parties.
Hopper – A box on the House Clerk’s desk where bills are placed to be introduced.
Joint Committee – A committee composed of Members of both the House and Senate.
Joint Referral – This occurs with a bill when more than one committee has jurisdiction over the issue. When this occurs, the bill in question must pass through each of the committees involved before the full House can act on the bill.
Lobbying – Seeking to influence the passage or defeat of legislation. Originally the term referred to persons frequenting the lobbies or corridors of legislative chambers to speak to lawmakers.
Majority Leader – The leading spokesperson and legislative strategist for the party in control of either the House or Senate.
Majority Whip – The assistant majority leader in the House or Senate. Responsibilities include reminding majority members of important upcoming votes and keeping “count” of how members plan to vote.
Marking up a Bill – Going through a bill, usually in subcommittee, section by section, revising language, amending sections, etc. If the bill is extensively revised, the new version may be introduced as a separate bill, with or without a new number (Clean Bill).
Member – A Senator or Representative.
Minority Leader – The leading spokesperson and legislative strategist for the minority party in either the House or Senate.
Minority Whip – The assistant minority leader in the House or Senate. Responsibilities include reminding minority members of important upcoming votes and keeping “count” of how members plan to vote.
Modified Closed Rule – Allows only those amendments on the House floor that the Rules Committee previously agreed to be offered.
Office of Management and Budget – Prepares the President’s annual budget; works with the Council of Economic Advisers and the Treasury Department to develop the federal government’s fiscal program, oversees administration of the budget and reviews government regulations.
Omnibus Bill – A bill containing several separate but related items.
Open Rule – Allows any amendment to a bill to be offered on the House floor.
Ordered Reported – A full committee approves a bill and orders it “reported” to the House or Senate. The bill has cleared the committee but is not quite ready for floor action. The committee first must write a report explaining the bill. The report may contain not only the “majority views” (opinion of the committee’s majority) but the “minority views” and “individual views” or “additional views.” The bill and report are then filed in the House or Senate and at that point the bill is considered “reported.”
Override a Veto – If the President disapproves a bill and sends it back to Congress, Congress may override the veto by a two-thirds vote in each House. If the two-thirds majority is reached in each House, the bill then becomes law over the President’s objection.
Pocket Veto – If there are fewer than 10 working days left in the Congressional session when the President receives a bill and the President does not sign the bill, the bill dies and does not become law.
President of the Senate – Presiding officer of the Senate, constitutionally the Vice President of the United States. In his absence, a president pro tempore, who is a Senator from the majority party, presides.
President Pro Tempore – The presiding officer of the Senate in the Vice President’s absence, elected by the full Senate, a member of the majority party and usually the most senior member of that party.
Previous Question – A call to close debate and take the vote.
Quorum – The required minimum number of Members present in order for the House or Senate to conduct official business; 51 in the Senate and 218 in the House, when there are no vacancies.
Recess – Different from adjournment, does not interfere with unfinished business. Halts the proceedings temporarily.
Recommit to Committee – Simple motion made on the floor after deliberation on a bill. to return it to the committee that reported it. If approved, recommittal is often considered a death blow to a bill.
Reconciliation – The process through which the Congress enforces a Budget Resolution, by requiring the authorizing committees to spend within the Resolution’s prescribed limits.
Report – Both a verb and a noun, When a committee returns a bill to the floor of either the Senate or House, it “reports” the bill. A “report” is a document setting forth the committee’s explanation of its action.
Rule – Instructions on the time and substance of debate on a bill, attached to the bill when reported out to the floor by the House Rules Committee.
S. – Stands for Senate and designates a bill originating in the Senate.
SJ. Res. – Designates a Senate Joint Resolution. Either an S. or an SJ. Res. becomes a la“ when passed by both Houses and signed by the President. In practice, a bill and a joint resolution are interchangeable.
S. Con. Res. – Designates a Senate Concurrent Resolution, which must be approved by both Houses. It does not require the President’s signature and does not have the force or law. It is generally used to express Congressional sentiment.
S. Res. – Designates a simple Senate Resolution, the authority of which extends only to the Senate itself and does not have the force of law. Used to change Senate rules and express Senate views.
Sequestration – Under the terms of the “Gramm-Rudman-Hollings” law, the President must issue an order withholding a specific amount of federal spending if the deficit projection for the fiscal year exceeds a prescribed target. The Presidential order has the effect of causing the funds in excess of the target to be withheld, or “sequestered.” Such a sequester order would reduce spending, with certain exemptions, by a uniform percentage, to achieve the prescribed deficit limit. The cuts would be divided equally between defense and non- defense programs.
Session of Congress – Each elected Congress is composed of two sessions. A new session of Congress begins each January and continues until adjourned.
Speaker of the House – The elected presiding officer of the House of Representatives. Elected by the full House and a member of the majority party.
Substitute – A motion, an amendment, or an entire bill introduced in place of pending business. Passage of a substitute measure kills the original measure by supplanting it. A substitute may be amended.
Supplemental Appropriations – Additional funds appropriated by Congress for the current fiscal year after enactment of the regular appropriations bills.
Suspension of the Rules – A time-saving procedure used in the House and reserved for non-controversial legislation, under which a favorable vote of two-thirds of those Representatives present and voting is required for passage. Debate is limited to 40 minutes and no amendments are permitted. If a bill does not attain passage under suspension of the rules, it can still be considered later under regular procedures.
Table a Motion – Not debatable in either House, and is usually a method of making a final, adverse disposition of a matter. In the Senate, however, a motion is more flexible, merely keeping the bill pending for later action, if desired.
U.S. Code – A consolidation of the laws of the United States, arranged by subject under 50 titles.
Veto – Rejection of a bill or joint resolution by the President.
Well – The area in front of the Speaker’s rostrum from which Members address the House.