Glossary of Legislative and Political Terms

Act: A bill or measure passed into law. Also used to describe a comprehensive piece of proposed legislation with multiple components.

Adjourn: To end a legislative day.

Adjourn Sine Die: To end the congressional session.

Administrative Assistant (AA): The Congressperson's chief of staff.

Amendment: A proposal to change, or an actual change to, a given piece of legislation.

Appropriation: Legislation to provide specific funding for an authorized program.

Authorization: Authorizes a program, specifying its general purpose and, broadly, how that purpose is to be achieved, and sets a funding ceiling for the program

Bill: A proposed law.

Budget: An annual proposal that outlines anticipated Federal revenue and designates program expenditures for the upcoming fiscal year.

Calendar: The list of bills or resolutions to be considered by committees, or by either chamber.

Chairperson: Member of the majority party who presides over the work of a committee or subcommittee.

Committee Report: A committee's written statement about a given piece of legislation. Committee reports are especially important because they often contain implementing and enforcing language for the legislation.

Congress: Refers to the 2-year cycle of activities of the legislative branch. For example, the '101st Congress' began January 3, 1989 and included a 1989 and a 1990 'session.' Proposed legislation introduced during a 2-year Congress may be taken up at any time during that period, but once the Congress has ended, pending measures are no longer viable and must be introduced anew in the next Congress in order to be considered.

Congressional Research Service: Congressional support agency that provides political analysis and information at the request of individual members of Congress.

Continuing Resolution: A joint resolution of Congress to provide continued funding for government agencies, generally at the same rate as the previous year's appropriation, that have not yet been funded through the enactment of regular appropriations bills.

Fiscal Year: The financial operating year of the federal government, beginning October 1st and ending September 30th of the next calendar year.

General Accounting Office: Congressional support agency that reviews and evaluates the management of Federal programs and activities, primarily at the request of individual members of Congress.

Institute of Medicine (IOM): Chartered by the National Academy of Sciences to enlist distinguished members of the appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to public health.

Joint Committee: A committee consisting of Members of both the House and Senate.

Joint Resolution: Joint resolutions, which are essentially the same as bills, usually focus on a single item or issue. They are designated as either 'HJ Res' (when originating in the House) or 'SJ Res' (when originating in the Senate).

Legislative Assistant (LA): The professional staff member in charge of a particular issue or issue area.

Majority Leader: Leader of the majority party in either the House or the Senate.

Mark-up: The review and possible revision of a piece of legislation by committee members.

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

National Academy of Sciences (NAS): Chartered by Congress, convenes committees of experts, often at the initiative of Congress, to advise the government on scientific and technical matters.

National Research Council (NRC): Organized by the National Academy of Sciences to advise the federal government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities.

Pocket Veto: When the President withholds approval of a bill after Congress has adjourned, thereby killing the bill without a formal veto.

President of the Senate: The Vice President of the United States officially presides over the Senate. Except during times of very important debate, a President pro tempore is elected.

Quorum: The number or Senators or Representatives who must be present in their respective chambers before business can be conducted.

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

Ranking Minority Member: The minority party member with the most seniority on a committee.

Reauthorization: Sanctions anew, usually with changes, a previously approved program.

Recess: Marks a temporary end to the business of the Congress, and sets a time for the next meeting.

Resolution: A formal statement of a decision or opinion by the House, Senate, or both.

Rider: A provision added to a bill so that it may 'ride' to approval on the strength of that bill. Riders are generally attached to Senate appropriations bills.

Speaker of the House: The presiding officer in the House of Representatives. The Speaker is elected by the majority party in the House.

Table a Bill: A motion to remove a bill from consideration.

Unanimous Consent: A procedure for adopting noncontroversial measures without a vote.

Veto: Disapproval of a bill or resolution by the President.

Whip: A legislator who is chosen to be assistant to the leader of the party in the House or the Senate and whose job is to marshal support for party strategy