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Congressional Glossary

  • Act

    Term used for a piece of legislation that has passed both chambers of Congress. Acts are assigned numbers, e.g., H.R.1, S.2, etc.
  • Amendment

    Proposal of a member of Congress to change the wording or substance of a piece of legislation.
  • Appropriations Bill

    The annual series of 13 bills passed by the House that authorize the federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The appropriations bill must be passed by the start of the fiscal year, Oct. 1. If the bill is not passed, Congress must pass a continuing resolution authorizing continued outlay without a budget until a budget is agreed upon.
  • At-large representatives

    Voting at-large representatives are from states whose population only guarantees them one Representative in Congress. These states are: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North and South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. Non-voting at-large representatives are from the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, & American Samoa.
  • Bicameral

    Composed of two houses. The U.S. Congress is a bicameral legislature, composed of the House and the Senate.
  • Bill sponsor

    The member of Congress who writes legislation and attempts to gain support for it within his or her own party, and across party lines. See also Co-sponsor.
  • Bi-partisan

    Of or relating to anything that involves the participation of both Republicans and Democrats.
  • Blue Dog Democrats

    Officially the “Blue Dog Coalition,” the Blue Dog Democrats are a caucus within the House Democratic caucus that emphasizes fiscal responsibility. The Blue Dog website is
  • Caucus

    An informal group of legislators sharing an interest in policy issues. E.g.: the House Surfing Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, or the Democratic Caucus.
  • Censure

    An official reprimand from Members of either chamber to either another Member or an executive branch official.
  • Class

    A legislator’s class is determined by the year in which he is up for reelection. In the Senate there are three classes composed of 33-34 Senators, and staggered so that one class is always up for reelection every two years.  Senators are also referred to as either senior or junior, depending on seniority within their state (i.e., there is one junior and one senior Senator from each state).  In the House, representatives are ranked by the year in which they were sworn in. 
  • Clerk of the House

    The chief administrative officer of the House. The clerk is responsible for maintaining legislative records and keeping official voting records. The clerk maintains a website at
  • Cloakrooms

    Rooms assigned to each party immediately outside the House and Senate chambers, typically used for discussion between members so as not to be disruptive on the floor.
  • Cloture

    The legislative tactic used to end a filibuster (privilege of unlimited speech on the Senate floor). Cloture requires 60 votes.
  • Committee

    Group of appointed legislators who write legislation and guide Congressional action on particular issues. The Chair of the committee is a member of the majority party, assigned the position by party leadership, who guides the committee and determines legislative action. The Ranking Member of the committee is a member of the minority party, typically determined by seniority, who is the voice of the minority party in that committee. Click here for a link to the full listing of House committees. Click here for a link to the full listing of Senate committees. See also: Committee of the Whole, Joint Committee.
  • Committee of the Whole

    The entire House of Representatives meeting in the form of a committee. This allows for less stringent debate and simplified rules for passage. All money bills must be considered in committee of the whole.
  • Committee on Ethics

    Also known as the Ethics Committee, this House committee is responsible for investigating allegations of ethical violations by members of Congress, and enforcing penalties if a legislator is determined to have violated the rules. Committee website is at
  • Conference committee

    A panel of representatives and Senators used to resolve differences in similar bills with the object of passing the Constitutionally-mandated identical version from each house.
  • Congressional Record

    The Congressional Record is the daily publication of all the proceedings and debates of the U.S. Congress. The text contains records of votes, member speeches, committee testimony, etc. The Government Printing Office also makes the text available online, here.
  • Congressional Office Buildings

    Each chamber has three official office buildings (plus office space for minority & majority leaders within the Capitol itself). The Senate office buildings are Dirksen Senate Office Building, Russell Senate Office Building, and Hart Senate Office Building. The House office buildings are Longworth House Office Building, Cannon House Office Building, and Rayburn House Office Building.
  • Congressional Research Service (CRS)

    The Congressional Research Service is the research arm of the U.S. Congress. They only respond to requests for information or analysis from members of Congress or Congressional staffers.
  • Congressional Resolution

    A non-legally binding statement of position on a certain issue from the Congress.
  • Continuing resolution

    A continuing resolution allows the federal government to continue operating even if the fiscal year’s budget has not been approved by the Congress.
  • Co-sponsor

    Works with a bill’s original sponsor to ensure passage of the legislation. Co-sponsors formally add their name to a list of supporters of the legislation.
  • DCCC

    The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is the fundraising arm of the House Democratic Caucus. Their website is at
  • Democratic Caucus

    The formal group of all members of the Democratic Party serving in the House. The Caucus’ website is at
  • Dear Colleague letter

    A memo from a member of Congress to his or her fellow members of Congress (“colleagues”). Typically Dear Colleague letters ask for support or co-sponsorship of legislation that the Congressman is sponsoring; they may also ask for colleagues to join them at important events, issue caucuses, or briefings.
  • Discharge petition

    A petition in the House, requiring 218 signatures, to remove (and bring to the floor for a vote) a bill that has been in committee for more than 30 days. This is a tactic that is rarely used.
  • DSCC

    The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is the fundraising arm of the Democratic Senate Caucus. The DSCC’s website is at
  • Earmark

    A specific provision within a piece of legislation that sets aside funds for a particular project.
  • Ethics Rules

    Congress has a very specific set of rules governing gifts to members of Congress, and types of contact that are and are not appropriate. For more information on specifics, please see the Lobbying Compliance Handbook, at
  • Federal Register

    The Federal Register is the daily publication of all rules, proposed rules, and notices from the federal government.
  • Filibuster

    The practice of allowing Senators unlimited speech on the Senate floor, typically used to block passage of a piece of legislation. As long as the senator holds the floor, a vote cannot be held.

  • The “floor” refers to the floor of the chamber in which debate takes place (House or Senate). To take a bill to the floor means to bring it up for debate or vote. The Floor Managers are typically the committee chair and ranking member from the committee bringing each piece of legislation to debate or a vote. Each floor manager is responsible for allotting time to members who want to speak in support or opposition of the legislation.
  • Franking Privilege

    Allows members to use their signature as a postmark in lieu of paying for postage. The use of the franking privilege is restricted to official business and cannot contain campaign material. Items that will be franked are given oversight by a commission with members of both parties.
  • GAO

    The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is tasked with ensuring accountability and fiscal responsibility in the legislative and executive branches.
  • Gerrymandering

    Deliberate re-drawing of Congressional districts to take advantage of electoral trends. E.g., the party in power will re-draw district lines to ensure the maximum number of party-supporters in a district, thereby creating a “safe seat.” See Safe Seat.
  • Incumbent

    The current office-holder of each seat. The Challenger(s) are those people running against an incumbent office-holder.
  • Joint Committee

    A committee composed of both Senators and Representatives. Joint committees are either standing (permanent) or special (temporary).
  • K Street

    Term used to denote lobbying interests, who often have offices located on K Street, Washington D.C. For more information on lobbying and free resources, visit
  • Lame duck

    Members who are not returning to their seats because of election defeats or resignations. A “lame duck Congress” happens between the November election and the start of a new Congress in early January.
  • Law

    The final version of a bill as passed by both chambers and signed by the president.
  • Leadership PAC

    A political action committee controlled by a member of Congress that disburses money to campaigns he or she believes to be crucial to his or her party or individual political interests.
  • Majority Leader

    The majority leader is an elected position in each chamber, typically held by a long-serving member with a safe district and strong fundraising and team-building recommendations.
  • Mid-term election

    Election that occurs half-way through a presidential term, e.g. the 2010 election will be the midterm election for Barack Obama’s 2008-2012 term. Representatives must defend their seats every two years.
  • Minority Leader

    The minority leader is an elected officer of the minority party in each chamber. His or her duties include: guiding minority policy, enforcing party discipline, and serving as party spokesman in negotiations and discussions with the majority party.
  • NRCC

    The National Republican Congressional Committee is the fundraising arm of the House Republican Caucus. They are on the web at
  • NRSC

    The National Republican Senatorial Committee is the fundraising arm of the Senate Republicans. Their website is
  • Office of Congressional Ethics

    An independent office tasked with overseeing ethical behavior in the Congress. Does not have enforcement power, may only refer situations and information to the official Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. The OCE’s website is
  • OMB

    The Office of Management and Budget, an executive branch agency given its authority by the President, is in charge of producing and maintaining the president’s annual budget. The OMB’s website is
  • Parliamentarian

    Officer of the House or Senate tasked with ensuring compliance with the rules of the chamber.
  • Party line vote

    Voting strictly how party leadership or the party base has determined all members of the party should vote.
  • President Pro Tempore

    Usually the most senior member of the majority party, the President Pro Tempore is the presiding officer of the Senate in the absence of the vice president.
  • President of the Senate:

    The vice president of the U.S. is ex-offico president of the Senate, although he rarely presides.
  • Pro Tem (Pro Tempore)

    “For the day,” a congressional officer appointed to fill a position temporarily. Typically appointed by the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate, this legislator carries out official duties such as presiding over debate in the absence of the elected officer of the chamber. See Speaker Pro Tempore, President Pro Tempore.
  • Quorum

    A quorum is the requisite number of members for conducting official business (a simple majority). IN the House, the number is 218, while in the Senate, the number is 51. When business is being conducted, a member may suggest the absence of a quorum, which then triggers a calling of the roll – to bring members to the floor – known as a quorum call.
  • Reconciliation

    The process by which a bill is brought within existing budgetary constraints.
  • Redistricting

    Typically happens after the Constitutionally-mandated census every ten years. Takes into account Constitutional limits for representation numbers.
  • Republican Caucus

    The formal group of all Republicans serving in the House. Their website is at
  • Roll call vote

    A vote held on a specific question on the record – if present, each member must vote yes, no, or present.
  • Rules committee

    Sets the guidelines for debate and amendment of a particular piece of legislation. Controlled by the majority party, with especial interest by the Speaker of the House.
  • Safe seat

    A Congressional district that is considered safely in one party – i.e. one party has consistently controlled it and polled high within that district for a long period of time. Typically members in safe seats, who do not have to spend a lot of time or money campaigning end up with party leadership positions.
  • Secretary of the Senate

    An appointed official who serves as the chief administrative officer of the Senate.
  • Senate Democrats

    The coalition of Senators belonging to the Democratic Party. Their website is at:
  • SRC

    Senate Republican Conference. The formal organization of the Republican Senators. Their website is at
  • Speaker of the House

    The Speaker of the House is an elected majority party position. The Speaker has control over a wide variety of committee assignments, rules from the rules committee, order and frequency of types of legislation, etc.
  • Speaker Pro Tempore

    May be designated by the Speaker of the House to act as the presiding officer in place of the Speaker. Typically the Speaker does not preside in debate; rather he or she designates a Speaker Pro Tempore (usually a senior member of the majority party) to preside.
  • Staffers

    Legislators receive a budget per session to hire staffers to handle writing legislation, corresponding with constituents, and administrative and political tasks. Types of staffers include: chief of staff, legislative director, legislative counsel, legislative assistant, legislative correspondent, scheduler, & caseworker.
  • Suspension of the rules

    A method of bringing bills to the floor for speedy passage. This process gives 40 minutes of debate, does not allow for amendments, and requires a 2/3rds vote for passage.
  • Unanimous consent

    Unanimous agreement on a specific procedure or policy question. Can be used in House or Senate, but is typically used in Senate to allow Senators to waive their prerogative of unlimited debate, paving the way for quick passage.
  • Whip

    The Whip for each party is an elected position, responsible for knowing how each member of his or her party will vote, and attempting to change votes in order to bring everyone possible within the party line.
  • Yeas & Nays

    In the House, a specific type of recorded vote, requiring at least 1/5 of those present to proceed. In the Senate, the name for a recorded roll call vote.
  • Yield the floor

    When a member is speaking on the floor, they may give time to another member who wishes to make a comment or ask a question.