Capital Hill Glossary

Many of these definitions are taken from Congress at Your Fingertips, edited by Capitol Advantage.

Act – Legislation that has passed both houses of Congress and become law.

Amendment – A change in a bill or document by adding, substituting, or omitting portions of it. Action on amendments can be taken at the subcommittee, at the full committee, or on the floor.

Appropriations Bill – Legislation that provides funds for authorized programs.

Authorization Bill – Legislation establishing a program and setting funding limits. You will often hear members of Congress, their staff, lobbyists, and advocates say “funding for the program was authorized at $100 million, but only $12 million was appropriated.” An authorized funding level does not indicate the amount of actual funds. For example, the Math Science Partnership, which makes up Title II, Part B of the No Child Left Behind Act, was authorized at $450 million in FY2002, yet was appropriated $12.5 million for that fiscal year.

Block Grants – Lump sums given to the states by the federal government for loosely defined purposes, such as childcare or improving public safety.

Briefing – A session held by members of Congress to inform the public, the media, advocates, and others about an issue, legislation, or the status of legislation. Sometimes questions are taken by the members of Congress; other times it is purely an informational session with no time allotted for questions.

Caucus – Meeting of Republican or Democratic members of Congress to determine policy and/or choose leaders.

Cloak Rooms – Small rooms off the House and Senate floor where members can rest and hold informal conferences.

Cloture – Method of limiting debate or ending a filibuster in the Senate. At least 60 Senators must vote in favor before cloture can be invoked.

Colloquy – A formal conversation, often in written form, between members of Congress to provide clarification on a point or issue.

Concurrent Resolution – Legislative action used to express the position of the House or the Senate, but not having the force of law.

Continuing Resolution – Legislation that gives budget authority for specific ongoing activities used when Congress hasn’t yet passed all regular appropriations bills prior to the start of the fiscal year (October 1).

Committee A working subdivision of the House or Senate that prepares legislation or conducts investigations; committees and their subcommittees have specific areas of concern.

Conference Committee – Meeting between Representatives and Senators to resolve differences when two versions of a similar bill have been passed by the House and Senate.

Congressional Record – Official transcript of the proceedings in Congress.

“Dear Colleague” Letter – A letter circulated to members asking for their participation. It often asks members to cosponsor a bill.

Engrossed Bill – Final copy of a bill passed by either the House or Senate with amendments. The bill is then delivered to the other chamber.

Enrolled Bill – Final copy of a bill that has passed both the House and Senate in identical form.

Extension of Remarks – When a member of Congress inserts material in the Congressional Record that is not directly related to the debate underway.

Filibuster – Tactic used in the Senate whereby a member of the minority party intentionally delays a vote.

Fiscal Year – Accounting year. For the federal government, the fiscal year (FY) is October 1 to September 30 of the following calendar year.

Guidance – Informal letters and guidance from the executive branch explaining its stance, but technically not binding under the law.

H.R. – Letters followed by a number that signify a bill that has originated in the House of Representatives.

Hearing – A committee session in which witnesses are called to testify about a particular issue. Hearings are usually conducted at the subcommittee level first in order to determine whether the issue or bill in question should be taken up in the full committee.

Joint Resolution – Legislation similar to a bill that has the force of law if passed by both houses and signed by the President, generally used for special circumstances. A joint resolution can originate in either the House or the Senate.

Lame Duck – Member of Congress (or the President) who has not been reelected but whose term has not yet expired. The expression can also describe a session of Congress during which the appropriations bills for that year are not passed before the next session of Congress begins.

Logrolling – Process whereby members help each other get particular legislation passed. One member will help another on one piece of legislation in return for similar help.

Motion to Table – Proposal to postpone consideration of a matter in the Senate.

Omnibus Bill – Bill regarding a single subject that combines many different aspects of that subject.

President Pro Tempore – Senator who presides over the Senate in the absence of the Vice President of the United States. The President Pro Tempore is usually the longest-serving member of the majority party.

Pocket Veto – When the President does not sign or veto legislation submitted to him or her within ten days of Congress’ adjournment, the bill dies.

Point of Order – An objection that language, an amendment, or a bill is in violation of a rule. Also used to force a quorum call.

Quorum – The number of Senators or Representatives who must be present before a legislative body can conduct official business.

Quorum Call – In the Senate, a method of determining whether there is a quorum. Often used to suspend debate without adjourning.

Ranking Members – The members of the majority and minority party on a committee next in seniority after the chair.

Regulatory – Law-binding regulations issued by the executive branch to clarify and expand upon statutory law. An example would be the regulations issued by the Department of Education addressing the No Child Left Behind Act.

Sense of the House/Senate – Legislative language that offers the opinion of the House/Senate, but does not make law.

Simple Resolution – A measure considered only by the body in which it is introduced, a simple resolution that addresses a matter concerning the rules, the operation, or the opinion of either house alone.

S – Letter followed by a number that signifies a bill that has originated in the Senate.

Statutory – Enacted or authorized by statute. An example of statutory law is the No Child Left Behind Act.

Unanimous Consent – A procedure whereby a matter is considered agreed to if no member on the floor objects. Unanimous consent motions save time by eliminating the need for a vote.

Whip – Assistant leader for each party in each chamber who keeps other members of the party informed of the legislative agenda of the leader. The whip also monitors the sentiment among party members for certain legislation and tries to persuade members to be present and vote for measures important to the party leadership.


Common Acronyms

You’ll also quickly learn that denizens of Capitol Hill speak in acronyms. Here are some common ones. A great resource for deciphering the “alphabet soup” can be found on the Web at: http://aspe.hhs.gov/daltcp/acronym.shtml.

GAO – Government Accountability Office

GPO – General Printing Office

OMB – Office of Management and Budget

CBO – Congressional Budget Office

CRS – Congressional Research Service

HOB – House Office Building

SOB – Senate Office Building

HBCU – Historically Black Colleges and Universities

NCLB – The No Child Left Behind Act

HEA – The Higher Education Act

IDEA – The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

WIA – The Workforce Investment Act

HELP – The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in the Senate

LHHS – The House and Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittees.