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Legislative Glossary

Act - Legislation (a bill or joint resolution, see below) that has passed both chambers of Congress in identical form, been signed into law by the President, or passed over his veto, thus becoming law.

Adjourn - A motion to adjourn in the Senate (or a committee) ends that day's session.

Adjournment Sine Die - Final adjournment of an annual or two-year session of Congress. Adjournment without fixing a definite day for reconvening, literally "adjournment without a day."

Amendment - A proposal of a member of Congress to alter the language, provisions or stipulations in a bill, resolution, amendment, motion, treaty or in another amendment.
Appropriation - Provision of law that provides authority for Federal agencies to obligate funds and to make payments out of the Treasury for specified purposes.
Authorization - Basic, substantive legislation that establishes or continues the legal operation of a federal program or agency, either indefinitely or for a specific period of time, or which sanctions a particular type of obligation or expenditure.

Bill - Most legislative proposals before Congress are in the form of a bill. Bills are designated H.R. if they originate in the House of Representatives and S. if they originate in the Senate and by a number assigned in the order in which they are introduced during the two-year period of a congressional term.

Caucus - An informal organization of Members of the House or the Senate, or both, that exists to discuss issues of mutual concern and possibly to perform legislative research and policy planning for its members.

Chairman - The presiding officer of a committee or subcommittee.

Clean Bill - When one of the committee members, usually the chairman, will assemble the changes and what is left of the original bill into a new measure and introduce it as a "clean bill.

Clerk of the House - Chief administrative officer of the House of Representatives responsible principally for administrative support of the legislative process in the House.

Cloture - The process by which a filibuster can be ended in the Senate other than by unanimous consent. A motion for cloture can apply to any measure before the Senate, including a proposal to change the chamber's rules.

Committee of the Whole - The membership is composed of all House members sitting as a committee. Any 100 members present on the floor of the chamber to consider legislation comprise a quorum of the committee.

Concurrent Resolution - A concurrent resolution, designated H. Con. Res. in the House or S. Con. Res. in the Senate, must be adopted by both houses but is not sent to the president for his signature and therefore does not have the force of law.

Conferees - Conferees are usually appointed from the committee or committees that reported the legislation; they are expected to try and uphold the Senate's position on measures when they negotiate with conferees from the other body.

Conference - A formal meeting between the representatives of the House and the Senate to reconcile differences between the two houses on provisions of a bill passed by both chambers. Members of the conference committee are appointed by the Speaker and the presiding officer of the Senate and are called "managers" for their respective chambers.

Confirmation - Informal term for the Senate giving "Advice and Consent" to a presidential nomination for an executive or judicial position.

Congressional Record - The daily printed account of proceedings in both the House and Senate chambers, showing substantially verbatim debate, statements, and a record of floor action.

Continuing Appropriations - An appropriations act that provides stop-gap funding for agencies that have not received regular appropriations.

Deficit - The amount by which outlays exceed receipts in a given fiscal period.

Earmark - For expenditures, an amount set aside within an appropriations account for a specified purpose.

En Bloc Amendment - Several amendments offered as a group after obtaining unanimous consent.

Ex Officio - The term refers to the practice under Senate rules that allows the chairman and ranking minority member of a committee to participate in any of the subcommittees of that committee, but generally not to vote.

Federal Debt - The federal debt consists of public debt, which occurs when the Treasury of the Federal Financing Bank (FFB) borrows money directly from the public or other funds or accounts, and agency debt, which is incurred when a federal agency other than the Treasury of the FFB is authorized by law to borrow money from the public or another fund or account. The public debt comprises about 99 percent of the gross federal debt.

Filibuster - A time-delaying tactic associated with the Senate and used by a minority in an effort to delay, modify or defeat a bill or amendment that probably would pass if voted on directly.

Fiscal Year (FY) - The federal government's annual accounting period. Financial operations of the government are carried out in a 12-month accounting year, beginning on October 1 and ending on September 30.

Floor Manager - A member who has the task of steering legislation through floor debate and the amendment process to a final vote in the house or the Senate. Floor managers usually are the chairmen or ranking members of the committee that reported the legislation under debate.

Germane - Pertaining to the subject matter of the measure at hand. All House amendments must be germane to the bill being considered. The Senate requires that amendments be germane when they are proposed to general appropriation bills, bills being considered once cloture has been adopted, or, frequently, when proceeding under a unanimous consent agreement placing a time limit on consideration of a bill.

Hearing - Committee sessions for taking testimony from witnesses. At hearings on legislation, witnesses usually include specialists, government officials and spokesmen for persons or entities affected by the bill or bills under study.

Joint Resolution - A joint resolution, designated HJ Res or SJ Res. Requires the approval of both houses and the signature of the president, just as a bill does, and has the force of law if approved. There is no practical difference between a bill and a joint resolution. A joint resolution generally is used to deal with limited matters, such as a single appropriation.

Joint Session - When the House and Senate meet together to conduct formal business or to hear an address by the President of the United States.

Journal - The official record of the proceedings of the House and Senate. The Journal records the actions taken in each chamber, but unlike the Congressional Record, it does not include the substantially verbatim report of speeches, debates, statements and the like.

Lame Duck Session - When Congress (or either chamber) reconvenes in an even-numbered year following the November general elections to consider various items of business. Some lawmakers who return for this session will not be in the next Congress.

Law - An act of Congress that has been signed by the president or passed over his veto by Congress. Public bills, when signed, become public laws, and are cited by the letters PL and a hyphenated number. The digits before the hyphen correspond to the Congress, and the one or more digits after the hyphen refer to the numerical sequence in which the bills were signed by the president during that Congress.

Legislative Session - That part of the Senate's daily session in which it considers legislative business (bills, resolutions, and actions related thereto).

Line Item Veto - Whenever the president signs a bill or joint resolution, the president may cancel in whole (1) any dollar amount of discretionary budget authority, (2) any item of new direct spending, and (3) certain limited tax benefits.

Lobby - A group 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.

Markup - The process by which congressional committees and subcommittees debate, amend, and rewrite proposed legislation.

Minority Leader -Floor leader and chief spokesperson for the minority party in each chamber, elected by the members of that party. The Minority Leader is also responsible for devising the party's political and procedural strategy.

Modified Closed Rule - Permits general debate for a specified period of time, but limits amendments to those designated in the special rule or the House Rules Committee report accompanying the special rule.

Morning Hour (Morning Business) - The time set-aside at the beginning of each legislative day for the consideration of regular, routine business. The "hour" is of indefinite duration in the House, where it is rarely used.  In the Senate, it is the first two hours of a session following an adjournment, as distinguished from a recess.

Motion - In the House or Senate chamber, a request by a member to institute any of a wide array of parliamentary actions.

Nominations - Presidential appointments to office subject to Senate confirmation.

Omnibus Bill - A measure that combines the provisions related to several disparate subjects into a single measure. Examples include continuing appropriations resolutions that might contain two or more of the thirteen annual appropriations bills.

One-Minute Speeches - Addresses by House members at the beginning of a legislative day. The speeches may cover any subject but are limited to one minute.

Open Rule - Permits general debate for a specified period of time and allows any member to offer an amendment that complies with the standing rules of the House.

Override a Veto - If the president disapproves a bill and sends it back to Congress with his objections, Congress may try to override his veto and enact the bill into law. The override of a veto requires a recorded vote with a two-thirds majority in each chamber.

Parliamentarian - The Parliamentarian is the Senate's advisor on the interpretation of its rules and procedures.

Pocket Veto - The act of the president in withholding his approval of a bill after Congress has adjourned. When Congress is in session, a bill becomes law without the president's signature if he does not act upon it within 10 days, excluding Sundays, from the time he gets it. But if Congress adjourns sine die within that 10-day period, the bill will not become law even if the president does not formally veto it.

Point of Order - An objection raised by a member, in committee or on the floor, that the chamber is departing from rules governing its conduct of business.

President of the Senate - Under the Constitution, the Vice President of the United States presides over the Senate and is allowed to cast a vote in the event of a tie.

President Pro Tempore - Under the Constitution, the chief officer of the Senate in the absence of the vice president; literally, but loosely, the president for a time. His/her fellow senators elect the president pro tempore, and the recent practice has been to elect the senator of the majority party with the longest period of continuous service.

Previous Question - A motion for the previous question, when carried, has the effect of cutting off all debate, preventing the offering of further amendments, and forcing a vote on the pending matter.  The motion for the previous question is a debate-limiting device and is not in order in the Senate.

Pro Forma Session - A brief meeting (sometimes only several seconds) of the Senate in which no business is conducted. It is held usually to satisfy the constitutional obligation that neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other.

Question - Any matter on which the Senate is to vote, such as passage of a bill, adoption of an amendment, agreement to a motion, or an appeal.

Quorum - The minimum number of members whose presence is necessary for the transaction of business. In the Senate and House, it is a majority of the membership. A quorum is 100 in the Committee of the Whole House. Both houses usually assume a quorum is present even if it is not.

Quorum Call -A call of the roll to establish whether a quorum is present. If any senator "suggests the absence of a quorum," the Presiding Officer must direct the roll to be called.

Ranking Minority Member - The highest ranking (and usually longest serving) minority member of a committee or subcommittee.

Recess - A temporary interruption of the Senate's (or a committee's) business. Generally, the Senate often recesses (rather than adjourns) at the end of each calendar day. Distinguished from adjournment, a recess does not interrupt unfinished business. The rules in each house set forth certain matters to be taken up and disposed of at the beginning of each legislative day. The House usually adjourns from day to day. The Senate often recesses, thus meeting on the same legislative day for several calendar days or even weeks at a time.

Recommit to Committee - A motion, made on the floor after a bill has been debated, to return it to the committee that reported it. If approved, recommittal usually is considered a deathblow to the bill. In the House, a motion to recommit can be made only by a member opposed to the bill, and in recognizing a member to make the motion; the Speaker gives preference to members of the minority party over majority party members. The House limits only one motion to recommit per measure. There is no such limit in the Senate.

Reconciliation - The 1974 budget act provides for a "reconciliation" procedure for bringing existing tax and spending laws into conformity with ceilings enacted in the congressional budget resolutions. Under the procedure, Congress instructs designated legislative committees to approve measures adjusting revenues and expenditures by a certain amount.

Reconciliation Process - A process established in the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 by which Congress changes existing laws to conform tax and spending levels to the levels set in a budget resolution. Changes recommended by committees pursuant to a reconciliation instruction are incorporated into a reconciliation measure.

Recorded Vote - A vote upon which each member's stand is individually made known. In the Senate, this is accomplished through a roll call of the entire membership, to which each senator on the floor must answer "yea," "nay" or, if he/she does not wish to vote, "present." Since January 1973, the House has used an electronic voting system for recorded votes, including yea-and -nay votes formerly taken by roll calls.

Refer/Referral - After a bill or resolution is introduced, it is normally referred to the committee having jurisdiction over the subject of the bill. In the Senate, referrals are generally made to the committee with jurisdiction over the predominant subject matter in the bill or resolution, but measures may be referred to more than one committee by unanimous consent.

Roll Call (Record) Vote - A vote in which each senator votes "yea" or "nay" as his or her name is called by the Clerk, so that the names of Senators voting on each side are recorded. Under the Constitution, a roll call vote must be held if demanded by one-fifth of a quorum of senators present, a minimum of 11.

Rules - The term has two specific congressional meanings. A rule may be a standing order governing the conduct of House or Senate business that is listed among the permanent rules of either chamber.  In the House, a rule also may be a resolution reported by its Rules Committee to govern the handling of a particular bill on the floor.

Scorekeeping - A procedure used by the Congressional Budget Office for up-to-date tabulations of congressional actions on bills and resolutions that provide new budget authority and outlays or change revenues and the public debt for a fiscal year. Such reports include, but are not limited to, status reports on the budgetary effects of these congressional actions to date and of potential congressional actions and comparisons of these actions to targets and ceilings set by Congress in the budget resolution.

Second - The number of members required to indicate support for an action, such as calling for a vote.

Second Reading - Required reading of a bill or joint resolution to a chamber: in the House, in full before floor consideration in the House or Committee of the Whole (usually dispensed with by unanimous consent or special rule); in the Senate, by title only, before referral to a committee.

Secretary of the Senate - Chief administrative and budgetary officer of the Senate, responsible for overseeing the duties of Senate employees, educating Senate pages, administering oaths, handling the registration of lobbyists, and handling other tasks necessary for the continuing operation of the Senate. The Secretary is almost always a candidate of the majority party and the majority leader.

Select or Special Committee - A committee set up for a special purpose usually for a limited time by resolution of either the House or Senate. Most special committees are investigative and lack legislative authority. Legislation is not referred to them and they cannot report bills to their parent chamber.

Senate Manual - A document that contains the Senate's standing rules and orders and other laws and regulations that apply to the Senate. It is usually published once each new Congress.

Senator - The Constitution requires that a senator be at least 30 years old, a citizen of the United States for at least nine years, and an inhabitant of the state from which he or she is elected. A person elected or appointed to the Senate and duly sworn is a senator.

Sequester/Sequestration - The cancellation of budgetary resources pursuant to the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990. If canceled, sequestration funds will not be available for obligation or expenditure.

Sergeant at Arms - The chief security officer of the Senate, the Sergeant at Arms and staff in the office help to preserve order in the Senate chamber, the Senate galleries, and the Senate side of the Capitol. The Sergeant at Arms is elected by the Senate upon the nomination of the majority party conference.

Session - The period during which Congress assembles and carries on its regular business. Each Congress generally has two regular sessions (a first session and a second session), based on the constitutional mandate that Congress assemble at least once each year.

Simple Resolution - Designated "S. Res.," simple resolutions are used to express nonbinding positions of the Senate or to deal with the Senate's internal affairs, such as the creation of a special committee. They do not require action by the House of Representatives.

Speaker - The presiding officer of the House of Representatives, selected by the caucus of the party to which he/she belongs and formally elected by the whole House.

Special Session - A session of Congress after it has adjourned sine die, completing its regular session. The president convenes special sessions.

Standing Committee - Committees permanently established by House and Senate rules. The standing committees are legislative committees. Legislation may be referred to them and they may report bills and resolutions to their parent chambers.

Standing Vote - A non-recorded vote used in both the House and Senate. (A standing vote is also called a division vote.) Members in favor of a proposal stand and are counted by the presiding officer. Then members opposed stand and are counted. There is no record of how individual members voted.

Strike from the Record - Remarks made on the House floor may offend some member, who moves that the offending words be "taken down" for the Speaker's cognizance, and then expunged from the debate as published in the Congressional Record.

Strike the Last Word/Strike the Requisite Number of Words - Also called a pro forma amendment. Means of obtaining time to speak on an amendment without actually offering a substantive change.

Subcommittee - Subunit of a committee established for the purpose of dividing the committee's workload. Recommendations of a subcommittee must be approved by the full committee before being reported to the Senate.

Surplus - Excess of revenues over outlays.

Suspend the Rules - Often a timesaving procedure for passing bills in the House. If a two-thirds favorable vote is not attained, the bill may be considered later under regular procedures. The suspension procedure is in order ever Monday and Tuesday and is intended to be reserved for non-controversial bills.

Table a Bill - Motions to table, or to "lay on the table," are used to block or kill amendments or other parliamentary questions. When approved, a tabling motion is considered the final disposition of that issue. The motion to table is not debatable, and adoption requires a simple majority vote. In the Senate, however, different language is sometimes used. The motion may be worded to let a bill "lie on the table," perhaps for subsequent "picking up." This motion is more flexible, keeping the bill pending for later action, if desired. Tabling motions on amendments are effective debate-ending devices in the Senate.

Third Reading - Required reading of a bill or joint resolution to chamber before vote on final passage; usually a pro forma procedural step.

Trust Funds - Funds collected and used by the Federal Government for carrying out specific purposes and programs according to terms of a trust agreement or statute, such as the Social Security trust funds.

Unanimous Consent - Proceedings of the House or Senate and action on legislation often take place upon the unanimous consent of the chamber, whether or not a rule of the chamber is being violated. Unanimous consent is used to expedite floor action and frequently is used for routing procedural requests.

U.S. Code - A consolidation and codification of the general and permanent laws of the United States arranged by subject under 50 titles, the first six dealing with general or political subjects, and the other 44 alphabetically arranged from agriculture to war. The U.S. Code is updated annually, and a new set of bound volumes is published every six years.

Veto - Disapproval by the president of a bill or joint resolution (other than one proposing an amendment to the Constitution.) When Congress is in session, the president must veto a bill within 10 days, excluding Sundays, after he has received it; otherwise, it becomes law without his signature. When the president vetoes a bill, he returns it to the house of origin with a message stating his objections.

Voice Vote - In the House or Senate, members answer "aye" or "no" in chorus, and the presiding officer decides the result. The term is also used loosely to indicate action by unanimous consent or without objection.

Vote - Unless rules specify otherwise, the Senate may agree to any question by a majority of senators voting, if a quorum is present. The Chair puts each question by voice vote unless the "yeas and nays" are requested, in which case a roll call vote occurs.

Without Objection - Used in lieu of a vote on non-controversial motions, amendments or bills that may be passed in either the House or Senate if no member voices an objection.

Yeas and Nays - The Constitution requires that yea-and-nay votes be taken and recorded when requested by one-fifth of the members present. In the House, the Speaker determines whether one-fifth of the members present requested a vote. In the Senate, practice requires only 11 members. The Constitution requires the yeas and nays on a veto override attempt.

Yield/Yielding - When a member has been recognized to speak, no other member may speak unless he obtains permission from the member recognized. This permission is called yielding and is usually requested in the form, "Will the gentleman or gentlewoman yield to me?" While this activity occasionally is seen in the Senate, the Senate has no rule or practice to parcel out time.