Appendix: Congressional Glossary
Adjournment to a Day Certain – Adjournment under a motion or resolution that fixes the next time of meeting. Under the Constitution, both Houses must agree to a concurrent resolution for either house to adjourn for more than three days. A session of Congress is not ended by adjournment to a day certain.
Adjournment Sine Die – Adjournment without definitely fixing a day for reconvening; literally “adjournment without a day.” Usually used to connote the final adjournment of a session of Congress. A session can continue until noon, January 3, of the following year, when, under the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, it automatically terminates.
Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute – An amendment that seeks to replace the entire text of an underlying bill. The adoption of such an amendment precludes any further amendment to that bill under the regular process (also, see Substitute Amendment).
Pro Forma Amendment – A motion whereby a Member secures five minutes to speak on an amendment under debate in the Committee of the Whole. The Member gains recognition from the Chair by moving to “strike the last word.” The motion requires no vote, does not change the amendment under debate, and is deemed automatically withdrawn at the expiration of the five minutes of debate.
Bills Introduced – In both the House and Senate, any number of Members may join in introducing a single bill or resolution. The first Member listed is the sponsor of the bill, and all Members’ names following the sponsor’s are the bill’s cosponsors. When introduced, a bill is referred to the committee or committees that have jurisdiction over the subject with which the bill is concerned. Under the standing rules of the House and Senate, bills are referred by the Speaker in the House and by the presiding officer in the Senate. In practice, the House and Senate parliamentarians act for these officials and refer the bills.
Budget Authority – Authority provided by law to incur into financial obligations that normally result in the outlay of funds. The main forms of budget authority are appropriations, borrowing authority, contract authority, and entitlement authority.
Budget Outlay – Payments made (generally through the issuance of checks or disbursement of cash) to liquidate obligations. Outlays during a fiscal year may be for payment of obligations incurred in prior years or in the same year.
Budget Resolution – A concurrent resolution that outlines in broad parameters the levels of spending and revenues for the next fiscal year. The concurrent resolution, which is not signed by the President, contains allocations of spending authority for House and Senate committees that serve as constraints on their consideration of legislation. The Appropriations Committee gets an allocation for discretionary spending.
Calendar – An agenda or list of business awaiting possible action by the House or Senate. The House has four calendars (the Discharge Calendar, the House Calendar, the Private Calendar, and the Union Calendar).
Chaplain of the House or Senate – He or she opens the legislative session with a formal prayer, a custom since the First Congress. The Chaplain provides pastoral counseling to Members, their families, and staff. Guest Chaplains of various denominations regularly offer the prayer.
Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) – He or she is responsible for certain administrative and financial activities that support the operations of the House, including the finance office, Members’ accounts, information resources, human resources, office systems management, furniture, office supplies, postal operations, food services, and various media services.
Clerk of the House – As the chief legislative officer, he or she directs administrative activities that support the legislative process including keeping the Journal, recording all votes, certifying bill passage, and processing all legislation.
Committee – A panel of Members elected or appointed to perform some service or function for its parent body. Congress has three types of committees: standing, special or select, and joint. Committees conduct investigations, make studies, issue reports and recommendations, and, in the case of standing committees, review and prepare measures on their assigned subjects for action by their respective houses. Most committees divide their work among several subcommittees or, in some cases, task forces, but only the full committee may submit reports or measures to its house or to Congress. With rare exceptions, the majority party in a house holds a majority of the seats on its committees, and their chairmen are also from that party.
Committee Allocation – The distribution, pursuant to section 302(a) of the Congressional Budget Act, of new budget authority and outlays to House and Senate committees. The allocation, which may not exceed the relevant amounts in the budget resolution, usually is made in the joint explanatory statement that accompanies the conference report on the budget resolution.
Committee of the Whole – A committee composed of all House Members created to expedite the consideration of bills, other measures, and amendments on the Floor of the House. In the Committee of the Whole, a quorum is 100 Members (as compared to 218 in a fully populated House) and debate on amendments is conducted under the five-minute rule (as compared to the hour rule in the House). In addition, certain motions allowed in the House are prohibited in the Committee of the Whole including, but not limited to, motions for the previous question, to table, to adjourn, to reconsider a vote, and to refer or recommit.
En Bloc – Several amendments offered and considered as a group. Because Members normally may offer an amendment at a time for consideration, they must obtain unanimous consent to offer amendments en bloc, or a rule providing for consideration of a measure may provide authority for a Member to offer amendments en bloc.
Engrossed Bill – The official copy of a bill or joint resolution as passed by one chamber, including the text as amended by Floor action, and certified by the Clerk of the House or the Secretary of the Senate (as appropriate). Amendments by one house to a measure or amendments of the other also are engrossed. House engrossed documents are printed on blue paper while the Senate’s are printed on white paper.
Enrolled Bill – The final official copy of a bill or joint resolution that both houses have passed in identical form. An enrolled bill is printed on parchment. After it is certified by the chief officer of the house in which it originated and signed by the House Speaker and the Senate President pro tempore, the measure is sent to the President for his signature.
Expedited Procedures – Procedures that provide a special process for the accelerated congressional consideration of legislation. This accelerated process usually includes consideration in committee and on the Floor of the House and Senate. Furthermore, these procedures often involve a departure from the regular order of the House. Expedited procedures are provided by law, as opposed to by a special rule.
Five-Minute Rule – A debate-limiting rule of the House used when the House sits as the Committee of the Whole. A Member offering an amendment is allowed to speak for five minutes in support of each amendment and an opponent is allowed to speak for five minutes in opposition. Other Members may rise to “strike the last word” and receive five minutes to speak in favor or opposition. Additional time for speaking can be obtained through a unanimous consent request.
Germaneness – A rule requiring amendments pertain to the same subject as the matter under consideration. Questions of germaneness, both in committee and on the House Floor, are determined by the Chair and/or the Speaker, subject to appeal to the House or the Committee.
House Bill (H.R.) – H.R. stands for “House of Representatives” and designates a measure as a bill, followed by a number assigned in the order in which bills are introduced during a two-year Congress. A bill becomes a law if passed in identical form by both houses and signed by the President, or passed over the President’s veto, or if the President fails to sign it within ten days after receiving it while Congress is in session.
House Concurrent Resolution (H. Con. Res.) – H. Con. Res. stands for “House Concurrent Resolution.” This is a resolution that requires approval by both houses, but is not sent to the President for his signature and therefore cannot have the force of law. Concurrent resolutions deal with the prerogatives or internal affairs of Congress as a whole. For example, they serve as the vehicles for agreeing to congressional budget decisions, fixing the time of congressional adjournments, agreeing to a joint session, expressing the sense of Congress on domestic and foreign issues, correcting errors in enrolled bills, authorizing the printing of documents of interest to both houses, and creating temporary joint committees.
House Joint Resolution (H. J. Res.) – H. J. Res. stands for “House Joint Resolution.” This is a legislative measure that Congress usually uses for purposes other than general legislation. Like a bill, it has the force of law when passed by both houses and either approved by the President or passed over the President’s veto. Unlike a bill, a joint resolution enacted into law is not called an act; it retains its original title. Most often, joint resolutions deal with relatively limited matters, such as the correction of errors in existing law, continuing appropriations, a single appropriation, or the establishment of permanent joint committees. Unlike bills, joint resolutions are also used to propose constitutional amendments, which do not require the President’s signature and become effective only when ratified by three-fourths of the states. While a preamble is not considered appropriate in a bill, it may be included in a joint resolution to set forth the events or facts that prompted the measure, for example, a declaration of war.
House Resolution (H. Res.) – H. Res. stands for “House Resolution.” This type of measure is a simple resolution, that is, a nonlegislative measure that is effective only in the House and does not require concurrence with the Senate or approval by the President. Simple resolutions express nonbinding opinions on policies or issues or deal with the internal affairs or prerogatives of the House. They are used to establish select and special committees, appoint the members of standing committees, and amend the standing rules. In the House, the Rules Committee reports its special rules in the form of simple resolutions.
Legislative History – The documents that accompanied a bill throughout the legislative process comprise its legislative history. These include the committee report, the conference committee report and the statement of managers (if applicable), and the text of the Floor debate in both chambers. Legislative history is used by federal agencies to clarify vague provisions in the laws they are required to implement.
Marking Up a Bill – The process by which a committee or subcommittee moves through the contents of a measure, debating and voting on amendments to its provisions by revising, adding, or subtracting language prior to ordering the measure reported.
Motion to Recommit – A motion made on the Floor after the engrossment and third reading of a bill or resolution, but prior to the Chair posing the question on final passage. Preference is given to a Member who is opposed to the bill and is reserved by tradition to the minority party. The Speaker usually gives priority recognition to the bill’s minority Floor manager. The motion to recommit may be without instructions and has the effect of sending the bill back to a committee until such time the committee decides to take further action, or with instructions (subject to ten minutes of debate split between a proponent and opponent, and usually directs the reporting committee to amend “forthwith,” meaning immediately, or rewrite the bill in a specified way).
Office of the Parliamentarian – An office managed, supervised, and administered by a non-partisan Parliamentarian appointed by the Speaker. This office is responsible for advising the presiding officer, Members, and staff on the rules and procedures of the House, as well as for compiling and preparing the precedents of the House. All consultation with this office is confidential (if requested).
Official Reporters – Official Reporters are responsible for collecting material for printing in the Congressional Record. These Clerks sit in the center of the first tier of the rostrum on the House Floor. All submissions for the Record, for example, extensions of remarks, corrections to Member’s Floor statements, and extraneous material, are given to the Official Reporters.
Parliamentary Inquiry – A Member’s question, posed to the presiding officer, about a pending procedural situation. The Chair is not required to answer such questions, but usually does if they are proper inquiries and properly made. A proper inquiry deals only with questions of procedure on a pending matter, not with hypothetical situations or the interpretation or consistency of amendments.
Point of Order – An objection that the pending proposal (bill, amendment, motion, etc.) is in violation of a rule of the House or statute (e.g., the Congressional Budget Act of 1974). The validity of points of order is determined by the presiding officer, and if held valid, the offending bill, amendment, or provision is ineligible for consideration. Points of order may be waived by special rules.
Privilege – A status relating to the rights of the House and its Members and the priority of motions and actions on the Floor of the House. “Privileged questions” relate to the order of legislative business, while “questions of privilege” relate to matters affecting the safety, dignity, or integrity of the House, or the rights, reputation or conduct of a Member acting as a Representative.
Privileged Matters – House rules give certain House committees a “green light” to bring certain categories of legislation to the House Floor for immediate debate. The Speaker must recognize any Chairman for the purpose of calling up a privileged matter reported from his or her committee. Examples of privileged matters include special rules from the Rules Committee, conference reports from any conference committee, congressional budget resolutions from the Budget Committee, censure or expulsion resolutions from the Ethics Committee, and general appropriations bills from the Appropriations Committee.
Previous Question – A motion offered in the House to end debate and preclude further amendments from being offered. In effect, it asks, “Are we ready to vote on the issue before us?” If the previous question is ordered in the House, all debate ends and usually the House immediately votes on the pending bill or amendment. If the previous question is defeated, control of debate shifts to the leading opposition Member (usually the minority Floor manager) who then manages an hour of debate and may offer a germane amendment to the pending business. The effect of defeating the previous question is to turn over control of the Floor to the minority or opposition.
Quorum – The number of Members whose presence is required for the House to conduct business. A quorum in the House is a majority of the Members (218). A quorum in the Committee of the Whole is 100 Members. A quorum is presumed to be present until its absence is demonstrated. If a quorum is not present when the question is put, a point of order can be made that a quorum is not present, at which time the Speaker (or Chair) counts for a quorum. If the Speaker (or Chair) determines that a quorum is not present, Members may be summoned to the Floor. If a quorum fails to respond to the call, the only business in order is a motion to adjourn or a motion to direct the Sergeant-at-Arms to request the attendance of absentees.
Ramseyer Rule – A House rule requiring that committee reports contain a comparative print showing, through typographical devices such as italic print, the changes in existing law made by the proposed committee language (the “Cordon Rule” is a parallel rule of the Senate).
Reading for Amendment – In the Committee of the Whole, after a clerk has read or designated a section or paragraph of a measure, it is a House practice to complete action on all amendments to that section or paragraph before moving on to the next section or paragraph. A full reading of a section’s text is often waived by unanimous consent or by a special rule from the Rules Committee, in which case the clerk reads only the section’s number or designates the paragraph. Sometimes, by unanimous consent or special rule, a measure is read or designated by title rather than by section or paragraph.
Recognition – Permission by the presiding officer for a Member to speak or propose a procedural action. A Member seeking recognition must rise and address the Chair, but may not do so while another Member holds the Floor unless that Member has violated a rule. Generally, recognition in the House is within the Chair’s discretion. Under some circumstances, the Chair’s discretion is absolute; under others, the Chair may be required to recognize a Member eventually, but not necessarily the first time the Member seeks recognition. Under still other circumstances, the Chair is required to recognize certain Members for specific purposes. However, the Speaker must recognize Members for privileged business and motions, but when several Members seek recognition on business of equal privilege, the Speaker has discretion in deciding whom to recognize first. By tradition and practice, both the Speaker and the Chairman of the Committee of the Whole follow certain priorities of recognition during debate. In both houses, the Chair’s recognition authority is not subject to appeal.
Reconsideration – A motion to reconsider the vote by which an action was taken has, until it is disposed of, the effect of putting the action in abeyance. In essence, it is a motion to vote again on that which was just agreed to.
Referral – The assignment of a measure to a committee in accordance with clause 2 of rule X, the rule fixing the jurisdiction of committees over particular subjects, and in accordance with the referral procedures contained in clause 2 of rule XII.
Standing Rules – These are the standing rules governing the normal order of business in the House or in a committee. These rules are adopted by the full House and by each committee at the beginning of each Congress. These rules generally govern such matters as the duties of officers, the code of conduct, the order of business, admission to the Floor, parliamentary procedures on handling amendments and voting, and jurisdictions of committees.
Special Rules – These involve a departure from the standing rules of the House for the consideration of specified House action. They are resolutions reported by the rules Committee, most of which govern the handling of a particular bill on the House Floor.
Senate Bill (S.) – S. stands for “Senate” and designates a measure introduced in the Senate as a bill, followed by a number assigned in the order in which bills are introduced during a two-year Congress. A bill becomes a law if passed in identical form by both houses and signed by the President, or passed over the President’s veto, or if the President fails to sign it within ten days after receiving it while Congress is in session.
Senate Concurrent Resolution (S. Con. Res.) – S. Con. Res. is an abbreviation for “Senate Concurrent Resolution.” This is a resolution that requires approval by both houses, but is not sent to the President for his signature and therefore cannot have the force of law. Concurrent resolutions deal with the prerogatives or internal affairs of Congress as a whole. For example, they serve as the vehicles for agreeing to congressional budget decisions, fixing the time of congressional adjournments, agreeing to a joint session, expressing the sense of Congress on domestic and foreign issues, correcting errors in enrolled bills, authorizing the printing of documents of interest to both houses, and creating temporary joint committees.
Senate Joint Resolution (S. J. Res.) – S. J. Res. is an abbreviation for “Senate Joint Resolution.” This is a legislative measure that Congress usually uses for purposes other than general legislation. Like a bill, it has the force of law when passed by both houses and either approved by the President or passed over the President’s veto. Unlike a bill, a joint resolution enacted into law is not called an act; it retains its original title. Most often, joint resolutions deal with relatively limited matters, such as the correction of errors in existing law, continuing appropriations, a single appropriation, or the establishment of permanent joint committees. Unlike bills, joint resolutions also are used to propose constitutional amendments, which do not require the President’s signature and become effective only when ratified by three-fourths of the states. While a preamble is not considered appropriate in a bill, it may be included in a joint resolution to set forth the events or facts that prompted the measure; for example, a declaration of war.
Senate Resolution (S. Res.) – S. Res. stands for “Senate Resolution.” This type of measure is a simple resolution, that is, a non-legislative measure that is effective only in the Senate and does not require concurrence with the House or approval by the President. Simple resolutions express nonbinding opinions on policies or issues or deal with the internal affairs or prerogatives of the Senate. They are used to establish select and special committees, appoint the members of standing committees, and amend the standing rules.
Sergeant-at-Arms – The Sergeant-at-Arms is the chief law enforcement officer for the House of Representatives. The officer is responsible for maintaining security, order, and decorum in the House Chamber, House wing of the Capitol, and the House office buildings.
Standing Committees – These permanent House panels are identified in House rule X, which also lists the jurisdiction of each committee. Because they have legislative jurisdiction, standing committees consider bills and issues and recommend measures for consideration by the full House. They also have oversight responsibility to monitor agencies, programs, and activities within their jurisdictions, and, in some cases, in areas that cut across committee jurisdictions.
Suspension of the Rules – A timesaving method used to consider legislation. By suspending the rules and passing a measure, this procedure has the effect of preventing any points of order from being raised against a measure for violation of a rule. Under this procedure, the bill is un-amendable (except for one amendment by the Floor manager if offered as part of the motion) and debate on the motion and the measure is limited to forty minutes equally divided between a proponent and an opponent. A motion to recommit is not in order under this procedure. However, a favorable vote of two-thirds of those present is necessary for passage. This procedure is in order every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and is intended to be reserved for relatively non-controversial bills. Both the Republican Conference and Democratic Caucus have their own internal rules for determining whether legislation is eligible for suspension consideration.
Unanimous Consent – A method used to expedite consideration of non-controversial measures on the House Floor. Proceedings of the House or actions on legislation often take place by unanimous consent of the House (i.e., without objection by any Member), whether or not a rule of the House is being violated.
Unanimous Consent Agreements – Agreements negotiated among Senators by the Majority and Minority Leaders to limit debate on a specified measure, to restrict amendments to it, and to waive points of order. Requires the consent of every Senator and may be denied by a single objection. These agreements, also called “time agreements,” are the Senate parallel to “special rules” from the House Rules Committee.
Waiver – A temporary setting aside of one or more rules by prohibiting points of order that might be raised to enforce those rules. The House uses special rules from the Rules Committee for this purpose. In addition, the House procedure for suspending the rules and passing a measure implicitly imposes a blanket waiver because it suspends all rules, including statutory rules that might conflict with the suspension procedure or the measure’s passage.
Yielding Time – Once a Member has been recognized by the Speaker (or Chair) to speak, he controls the Floor; in general, no other Member may speak without being granted permission to do so by the Member recognized. Another Member who wishes to speak will ask the recognized Member to yield by saying, “Will the gentleman (or gentlewoman) from (STATE) yield to me?”