Glossary of Legislative Terms
act-Legislation which has passed both chambers of Congress in identical form, been signed into law by the President, or passed over his veto, thus becoming law. Technically, this term also refers to a bill that has been passed by one house and engrossed (prepared as an official copy).
adjourn-A motion to adjourn in the Senate (or a committee) ends that day’s session.
amendment-A proposal to alter the text of a pending bill or other measure by striking out some of it, by inserting new language, or both.
appeal-When the Chair rules on a point of order, any Senator may appeal the ruling, in which case the full Senate makes a final decision on the point of order by voting whether to sustain or reverse the ruling.
appropriation-The provision of funds, through an annual appropriations act or a permanent law, for federal agencies to make payments out of the Treasury for specified purposes. The formal federal spending process consists of two sequential steps: authorization and then appropriation.
authorization-A statutory provision that obligates funding for a program or agency. An authorization may be effective for one year, a fixed number of years, or an indefinite period. An authorization may be for a definite amount of money or for “such sums as may be necessary.”
bill-The principal vehicle employed by lawmakers for introducing their proposals (enacting or repealing laws, for example). Bills address either matters of general interest (public bills) or narrow interest (private bills), such as immigration cases and individual claims against the Federal government.
calendar of business-A Senate publication sent to each lawmaker’s office (and other offices) every day the Senate is in session. It contains information on, for instance, measures reported from the various standing committees, bills in conference, and the status of appropriation bills.
caucus-From the Algonquian Indian language, a caucus meant “to meet together.” 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. In the Senate, chairmanship is based on seniority of committee tenure, but a Senator may not chair more than one standing committee.
class-Article I, section 3 of the Constitution requires the Senate to be divided into three classes for purposes of elections. Senators are elected to six-year terms, and every two years the members of one class—approximately one-third of the Senators—face election or reelection. Terms for Senators in Class I expire in 2013, Class II in 2009, and Class III in 2011.
committee-Subsidiary organization of the Senate established for the purpose of considering legislation, conducting hearings and investigations, or carrying out other assignments as instructed by the parent chamber.
congressional record-The substantially verbatim account of daily proceedings on the Senate floor. It is printed for each day the Senate is in session. At the back of each daily issue is the Daily Digest, which summarizes the day’s floor and committee activities.
enacted-Once legislation has passed both chambers of Congress in identical form, been signed into law by the President, become law without his signature, or passed over his veto, the legislation is enacted.
ex officio-Literally, by virtue of one's office. 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.
executive calendar-A list of executive business (i.e., treaties and nominations) available for Senate floor consideration.
filibuster-Informal term for any attempt to block or delay action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions.
fiscal year-The fiscal year is the accounting period for the federal government which begins on October 1, and ends on September 30. The fiscal year is designated by the calendar year in which it ends; for example, fiscal year 2008 begins on October 1, 2007 and ends on September 30, 2008.
hearing-A meeting of a committee or subcommittee–generally open to the public–to take testimony in order to gather information and opinions on proposed legislation, to conduct an investigation, or review the operation or other aspects of a Federal agency or program.
item veto-Authority to veto part rather than all of an appropriations act. The President does not now have item-veto authority. He must sign or veto the entire appropriations act. The item veto sometimes is referred to as a line-item veto.
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. Hence, they are informally called "lame duck" members participating in a "lame duck" session.
majority/minority leaders-The Majority Leader and Minority Leader are elected by their respective party conferences to serve as the chief Senate spokesmen for their parties and to manage and schedule the legislative and executive business of the Senate. By custom, the Presiding Officer gives the floor leaders priority in obtaining recognition to speak on the floor of the Senate.
majority/minority whips-Assistants to the floor leaders who are also elected by their party conferences. The Majority and Minority Whips (and their assistants) are responsible for mobilizing votes within their parties on major issues. In the absence of a party floor leader, the whip often serves as acting floor leader.
presidential signature-A proposed law passed by Congress must be presented to the President, who then has 10 days to approve or disapprove it. The President signs bills he supports, making them law. He vetoes a bill by returning it to the house in which it began, usually with a written message. Normally, bills he neither signs nor vetoes within 10 days become law without his signature.
presiding officer-A majority-party Senator who presides over the Senate and is charged with maintaining order and decorum, recognizing Members to speak, and interpreting the Senate's rules, practices and precedents.
proxy voting-The practice of allowing a Senator to cast a vote in committee for an absent Senator. Senate Rule XXVI provides that proxies may not be voted when the absent Senator has not been informed of the matter on which he is being recorded and has not requested that he be so recorded.
public law-The practice of allowing a Senator to cast a vote in committee for an absent Senator. Senate Rule XXVI provides that proxies may not be voted when the absent Senator has not been informed of the matter on which he is being recorded and has not requested that he be so recorded.
quorum-The number of Senators that must be present for the Senate to do business. The Constitution requires a majority of Senators (51) for a quorum. Often, fewer Senators are actually present on the floor, but the Senate presumes that a quorum is present unless the contrary is shown by a roll call vote or quorum call.
recess-A temporary interruption of the Senate's (or a committee's) business. Generally, the Senate recesses (rather than adjourns) at the end of each calendar day.
roll call 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.
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.
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.
unanimous consent-A Senator may request unanimous consent on the floor to set aside a specified rule of procedure so as to expedite proceedings. If no Senator objects, the Senate permits the action, but if any one Senator objects, the request is rejected. Unanimous consent requests with only immediate effects are routinely granted, but ones affecting the floor schedule, the conditions of considering a bill or other business, or the rights of other Senators, are normally not offered, or a floor leader will object to it, until all Senators concerned have had an opportunity to inform the leaders that they find it acceptable.
veto-The procedure established under the Constitution by which the President refuses to approve a bill or joint resolution and thus prevents its enactment into law. A regular veto occurs when the President returns the legislation to the house in which it originated. The President usually returns a vetoed bill with a message indicating his reasons for rejecting the measure. The veto can be overridden only by a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House.
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.