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Glossary of Federal Legislation Terms

Amendment
A motion offered to change the text of a bill or of another amendment. There are three types of amendments: motions to strike, to insert, or to strike and insert. Amendments to the bill are termed "first degree," while amendments to an amendment are "second degree."

Appropriations Bill
Provides the legal authority needed to spend or obligate U.S. Treasury funds. There are 13 annual appropriations bills which together fund the entire federal government. These 13 bills must all be enacted prior to the start of a new fiscal year, designated as October 1. Failure to meet this deadline causes the need for temporary short-term funding or results in a shut-down.

Bill
A legislative proposal which would make a law if it passes both the House and Senate and if it receives presidential approval. Bills are denoted as "H.R." in the House, and as "S." in the Senate (i.e., H.R. 5 or S. 123).

Briefing
An informational session led by an independent interest group designed to give staffers background information about their issues.

Caucus
An informal group of members sharing an interest in the same policy issues. Examples include the Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus, the Congressional Mental Health Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, etc.

Chairman
Leader of a congressional committee. Chairmen are always members of the majority party, often those with seniority; their powers include the ability to schedule hearings and allocate committee budgets.

Committee/Subcommittee 
A legislative sub-organization in the U.S. Congress that handles a specific duty (rather than the general duties of Congress).

Conference
A formal meeting, or series of meetings, between House and Senate Members. The purpose of a conference is to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of a bill.

Continuing Resolution (C.R.)
Continues funding for a program if the fiscal year ends without a new appropriation in place. A C.R. often provides temporary funding at current levels.

Discretionary Spending
Is set by annual appropriation levels made by decision of Congress. This spending is optional and in contrast to entitlement programs (like Medicare/Medicaid) for which funding is mandatory.

Filibuster
An extended debate in the Senate which has the effect of preventing or prolonging a vote. Senate rules contain no motion to force a vote. A vote occurs only once debate ends.

Floor
The chamber in the Capitol building where members assemble to debate and vote. Members are said to be "on the floor" when they assemble and "to have the floor" when they speak.

Hearing
A formal meeting of a committee or subcommittee to review legislation or explore a topic. Hearings may also be called to investigate a matter or conduct oversight of existing programs. Witnesses are called to deliver testimony and answer questions in all three types of hearings.

H.R.
Stands for House of Representatives and designates a measure as a bill (e.g. H.R. 1100.) The bill becomes law if passed by both the House and Senate and approved by the President.

Mandatory Spending
Funds not controlled by the annual decision of Congress. These funds are automatically obligated by virtue of previously enacted laws.

Mark-Up
The meeting of a committee held to review the text of a bill before reporting it out. Committee members offer and vote on proposed changes to the bill's language, known as amendments. Most mark-ups end with a vote to send the new version of the bill to the floor for final approval.

P.L.
Stands for public law and is named according to the number of the Congress and the order in which the law was enacted. For example, P.L. 106-10, is the tenth law enacted during the 106th Congress.

Ranking Member
The highest rank on a committee on the minority side.

Recess
Longer breaks over several days, such as holiday periods, which are approved by vote.

S.
Stands for Senate and designates a measure introduced in the Senate as a bill (e.g. S. 910). Bills become law if passed by both houses of Congress and approved by the President.
 
U.S. Code
The compilation of all current federal laws, arranged under 50 subject titles. The code, or U.S.C., is revised about every six years.

Veto
The power to prevent legislation or action proposed by others, exercised by the President.

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