Glossary of Terms
Act: A piece of legislation that has passed in both chambers of Congress and has been signed into law by the President.
Amendment: An addition or change to a bill proposed by a Member of Congress.
Appropriations Bill: Congress is the only body that is allowed to spend the money that belongs to the United States government. They spend this money by passing appropriations bills, which spell out exactly how much money will be given to each of the large federal agencies. There are 13 appropriation bills each year which fund the entire federal government!
Authorization Bill: Legislation that establishes or continues the operation of a federal program or agency, or that sanctions certain federal spending.
Chairman: Typically the most senior member in a committee or subcommittee. The chairman presides over committee hearings, decides rulings, and chooses which bills will come up for a vote.
Committee: a group of Members of Congress who work on legislative issues and bills before they are brought to the House floor for voting. Typically, Members are assigned to a committee based on their background and previous experience. For example, Members of Congress with medical experience typically serve on committees and subcommittees with jurisdiction over health legislation.
Conference: A formal meeting between members of the House and the Senate to resolve differences in versions of the same bill that passed the House and Senate.
Congressional Record: Every word that is spoken on the Floor of the House is recorded for history in the Congressional Record. You can look up what was said on the Floor of the House at any point in history.
Constituent: A person that lives in a given Representative’s district.
Deficit: A deficit occurs when the government spends more money that it brings in during a given year.
District: A geographic area that is represented by one representative. Each representative has one office located in Washington, D.C., and at least one office in the district (in many cases they have more than one). Representatives are also required to maintain a residence in their district while serving in Congress.
Hearing: A meeting called by a committee or subcommittee to investigate a piece of legislation, or to examine a certain topic. Hearings are formal, and are mostly open to the public. Witnesses and/or experts on pertinent subjects can be called to testify at hearings.
Majority Whip: The Majority Whip is elected by the party caucus and acts as an assistant to the Majority Leader. The Majority Whip's job is to gather support for the party’s legislative agenda.
Marking up a Bill: The process of amending a bill in a committee, before the bill is voted on by the full House.
Minority Leader: The Minority Leader is elected by the minority party to help advance the minority agenda.
Minority Whip: The Minority Whip carries out the same duties as the Majority Whip but for the minority party.
Motion to Recommit: Before the Speaker orders the final vote on a bill, a motion to recommit the bill is debated. If a motion to recommit is successful, the bill is sent back to the committee it came from. This motion is traditionally the right of the minority party and gives one last chance to amend or kill the bill.
Resolution: A simple resolution, designated House Resolution (H.Res.), requires neither passage by the Senate nor approval by the President, does not have the force of law and is commonly used for internal business of the house or for expressing opinions of the House.
Speaker of the House: The Speaker is elected every two years by a vote of all House members, and presides over the House of Representatives. The Speaker decides what legislation will be brought up on the Floor for a vote, and ensures that proper order is observed during debate and voting. The current Speaker is John Boehner of Ohio.
Sponsor: The sponsor of a bill is the Member who writes the legislation, introduces it on the floor, and is in charge getting people to vote for the bill.
Suspension of the Rules: A procedure used in the House to speed up the consideration of non-controversial legislation. Under suspension of the rules, debate is limited to 40 minutes, no amendments from the floor are permitted, and a two-thirds vote of those members voting is required for passage.