Brief explanations of legislative terms used throughout Congress.gov. In-depth descriptions are provided in "About" Committees, Committee Reports, Congressional Record, Legislation, Members, Nominations, and Treaty Documents.

A

adjourn

Formally end a meeting of a chamber or committee.

adjournment sine die

An adjournment that terminates an annual session of Congress. A "sine die" ("without day") adjournment sets no day for reconvening, so that Congress will not meet again until the first day of the next session. Under the Constitution, adjournment sine die (except when the next session is about to convene) requires the agreement of both chambers, accomplished through adoption of a concurrent resolution, which in current practice also authorizes leaders of either chamber to reconvene its session if circumstances warrant.

amendment

A proposed change to a pending text (e.g., a bill, resolution, another amendment, or a treaty [or an associated resolution of ratification]).

See also Proposed/offered Senate amendment and Submitted Senate amendment.

amendment exchange

Also referred to as “amendments between the houses” or, colloquially, “ping-pong.” A method for reconciling differences between the two chambers’ versions of a measure by sending the measure back and forth between them until both have agreed to identical language.

amendment in the nature of a substitute

Amendment that seeks to replace the entire text of an underlying measure.

B

bicameral

Literally, “two chambers;” in a legislative body, having two houses (as in the House of Representatives and the Senate comprising the U.S. Congress).

bill

The primary form of legislative measure used to propose law. Depending on the chamber of origin, bills begin with a designation of either H.R. or S.

Joint resolution is another form of legislative measure used to propose law.

bill summary

Upon introduction of a bill or resolution in the House or Senate, legislative analysts in the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress write a short summary that objectively describes the measure's significant provisions. Introduced version summaries are subject to length limitations as a matter of policy.

When a measure receives action (e.g., it is reported from a committee or passed by the House or Senate), the analysts then write an expanded summary, detailing the measure's effect upon programs and current law. Bill summaries are written as a result of a congressional action and may not always correspond to a document published by the Government Publishing Office. A final public law summary is prepared upon enactment into law.

Each summary description identifies the date and version of the measure, and indicates whether there have been amendments: e.g., Passed House amended (07/19/2013).

budget resolution

A measure (provided for by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, as amended) that sets forth a congressional budget plan, including aggregate budgetary levels, which may be enforced during the subsequent consideration of spending and revenue legislation. It is in the form of a concurrent resolution (e.g., an H.Con.Res or an S.Con. Res), not a law-making vehicle; as such, it is not submitted to the president.

by request

A designation on a measure indicating that the member has introduced the measure on behalf of someone else (e.g., the President or an executive branch agency), or pursuant to statutory requirements, and may not necessarily support its provision.

C

calendar

Lists of measures, motions, and matters that are (or soon will become) eligible for consideration on the chamber floor; also, the official document that contains these lists and other information about the status of legislation and other matters. The House has four such calendars, published as one document; the Senate publishes two.

CBO - Congressional Budget Office

The Congressional Budget Office is a legislative branch agency that produces independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.

cloture

The method by which a supermajority (typically, three-fifths) of the Senate may agree to limit further debate and consideration of a question (e.g., a bill, amendment, or other matter). Details of the procedural process are provided for in Rule XXII of the Senate standing rules.

committee / subcommittee

A panel (or subpanel) with members from the House or Senate (or both) tasked with conducting hearings, examining and developing legislation, conducting oversight, and/or helping manage chamber business and activities.

committee-related activity

A committee or subcommittee may interact with a bill in a variety of ways. Bills may be referred to or discharged from a committee by the full chamber. Committees markup bill texts, hold hearings to learn more about a topic, or may express legislative interest. Committees report legislation out to the full chamber recommending or disapproving consideration, or may report an original bill.

committee chair

The member of the majority party on a committee who has formal responsibility over the panel’s agenda and resources, presides at its meetings, and can, in some circumstances, act on the committee’s behalf.

Committee of the Whole

A parliamentary device designed to allow greater participation in floor consideration of measures. It can be understood as the House assembled in a different form; it is a committee of the House composed of every Representative that meets in the House chamber. The House considers many major measures in the Committee of the Whole.

committee report

Document accompanying a measure reported from a committee. It contains an explanation of the provisions of the measure, arguments for its approval, votes held in markup, individual committee members’ opinions, cost estimates, and other information.

Committee reports are published in the congressional report document series.

companion measure

Identical or substantially similar measures introduced in the other chamber.

Identical bills, procedurally-related measures, and legislation with text similarities are other related bill types.

concurrent resolution

A form of legislative measure used for the regulation of business within both chambers of Congress, not for proposing changes in law. Depending on the chamber of origin, they begin with a designation of either H.Con.Res. or S.Con.Res.

Joint resolutions and simple resolutions are other types of resolutions.

conferees

Members of the House and Senate appointed to a conference committee. Also sometimes called “managers.”

conference committee

Temporary joint committee created to resolve differences between House-passed and Senate-passed versions of a measure.

conference report

The document presenting an agreement reached by a joint temporary committee (a conference committee) appointed to negotiate a compromise between the House and Senate.

Conference reports are published in the Congressional Record and also in the congressional report document series.

congress (i.e., 2-year time-frame)

When referring to a time-period (e.g., the 114th Congress which convened on January 6, 2015) rather than the legislative branch generally, a Congress is the national legislature in office (for approximately two years). It begins with the convening of a new Congress comprised of members elected in the most-recent election and ends with the adjournment sine die of the legislature (typically after a new election has occurred).

Congressional Record

The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the U.S. Congress. For every day Congress is in session, an issue of the Congressional Record is printed by the Government Publishing Office. Each issue summarizes the day's floor and committee actions and records all remarks delivered in the House and Senate.

congressional report

Congressional reports originate from congressional committees and deal with proposed legislation or issues under investigation. Congress issues different types of reports, including committee reports, conference reports and executive reports.

Congressional reports may be issued by the House or Senate. Depending on the chamber of origin, report citations begin with the Congress number during which it was issued and either H. Rpt. or S. Rpt., and an accession number (e.g., 112 H. Rpt. 1). Congressional reports are compiled in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set.

continuing resolution (continuing appropriation)

An appropriations act (typically in the form of a joint resolution) that provides stop-gap (or full-year) funds for federal agencies and programs to continue operations when the regular (or annual) appropriations acts have not been enacted by the beginning of the fiscal year.

cosponsor

Representatives or Senators who formally sign on to support a measure. Only the first-named Member is the sponsor, all others are cosponsors, even those whose names appeared on the measure at the time it was submitted.

CRS - Congressional Research Service

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) of the Library of Congress works exclusively for the United States Congress, providing policy and legal analysis to committees and Members of both the House and Senate, regardless of party affiliation. CRS provides Congress with analysis that is authoritative, confidential, objective, and non-partisan.

D

Daily Digest

A section of the Congressional Record summarizing the day's floor and committee actions in each chamber, with page references to the verbatim accounts of floor actions. It also lists the measures scheduled for action during each chamber's next meeting and the announcements of upcoming committee meetings.

The Digest appears at the back of each daily Record. Its pages are separately numbered and preceded by the letter D. In the bound Congressional Record, all Daily Digests for a session are printed in a separate volume.

E

enacted

Made into law.

en bloc

"All together." Sometimes a committee or congressional chamber will agree to act concurrently on multiple measures (e.g., bills) or matters (e.g., nominations), thereby considering them "en bloc."

engrossed measure

Official copy of a measure as passed by one chamber, including the text as amended by floor action.

enrolled measure

Final official copy of a measure as passed in identical form by both chambers and then printed on parchment for presentation to the President.

executive business

Nominations and treaties submitted by the president to the Senate for its "Advice and Consent;" the Senate treats such business separately from its legislative business.

Executive Calendar

The list of treaties and nominations that are (or soon will become) eligible for consideration by the full Senate; also, the official document that contains these lists and other information about the status of items of executive business.

executive report

A written committee report accompanying a matter of executive business (treaty or nomination) reported by the committee.

executive session

A period under Senate rules during which executive business is considered on the floor. (Legislation is considered only in legislative session, with its own distinct rules and practices; the Senate may go back and forth between legislative and executive session, even within the course of a day.)

F

federal depository library

Libraries where congressional and other federal publications are available for free public use. Federal depository libraries are located throughout the United States.

filibuster

In the Senate, the use of dilatory or obstructive tactics to delay or block passage of a measure by preventing it from coming to a vote.

G

germaneness

The requirement that an amendment be closely related—in terms of the precise subject or purpose, for example—to the text it proposes to amend. House rules require amendments to be germane; Senate rules apply this restriction only in limited circumstances.

GPO - Government Publishing Office

Government Publishing Office is a legislative branch agency that provides publishing and dissemination services for the official and authentic government publications to Congress, federal agencies, federal depository libraries, and the American public.

H

hearing

A formal meeting of a congressional committee (or subcommittee) to gather information from witnesses for use in its activities (that is, the development of legislation, oversight of executive agencies, investigations into matters of public policy, or Senate consideration of presidential nominations).

See also, committee-related activity.

hold

A request by a Senator to his or her party leader to delay floor action on a measure (e.g., bill) or matter (e.g., nomination), to be consulted on its disposition, and/or an indication that he or she would object to a unanimous consent request to consider said item of business or otherwise delay or obstruct consideration.

hopper

A wooden box on the House floor into which measures are dropped for formal introduction.

House Rules committee

A committee in the House that, among other things, is responsible for reporting out "special rules"—simple resolutions that propose to the House tailored terms for debate and amendment of a measure on the House floor.

I

identical bill

A bill that is word-for-word identical to another bill.

Companion measures, procedurally-related measures, and legislation with text similarities are other related bill types.

international agreement

Legal agreements the United States enters into with other States or international organizations; they may take the form of an executive agreement entered into by the executive branch (but not submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent) or the form of a treaty.

J

joint explanatory statement

Statement appended to a conference report explaining the conference agreement and the intent of the conferees. Sometimes called a “statement of managers.”

joint resolution

A form of legislative measure used to propose changes in law, or to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Depending on the chamber of origin, they begin with a designation of either H.J.Res. or S.J.Res.

Concurrent resolutions and simple resolutions are other types of resolutions.

Bill is another form of legislative measure used to propose law.

journal

The constitutionally-mandated record of certain House and Senate actions, including motions offered, votes taken, and amendments agreed to. Unlike the Congressional Record, it does not contain remarks delivered in the House and Senate.

jurisdiction

A set of policy issues that fall under the purview of a specific committee (or subcommittee); full committee jurisdiction is set by chamber standing rules and precedents.

L

legislative action steps

Each chamber produces detailed, chamber-specific legislative action steps. Each step has a number code.

U.S. Congress Legislative Status Steps is a depiction of the steps in relation to the codes. It was published in 1975 within a committee print titled The Bill Status System for the United States House of Representatives.

See also, major action.

legislative interest

A label used by committees to identify bills that were not formally referred to the committee but which the committee has worked on.

See also, committee-related activity.

legislative subject term

The legislative subject term vocabulary consists of approximately 1,000 subject terms, geographic entities, and organization names. Multiple terms may be assigned to describe a measure's substance and effects. The legislative subject term vocabulary is consistently used for all bills and resolutions introduced since 2009 (111th Congress).

Terms assigned to a bill can be seen from the "View All Subjects" link to the right of each bill's overview. Find Bills by Subject and Policy Area provides subject term search guidance.

See also, policy area term.

LIV - Legislative Indexing Vocabulary

The Legislative Indexing Vocabulary (LIV) was the Congressional Research Service (CRS) thesaurus for subject searching in databases of the Library of Congress from 1973 to 2008. This controlled vocabulary provided access via specific subjects to legislative material, public policy literature, and CRS products. With increased availability of electronic full text of documents and accompanying search capabilities, the level of detail employed by LIV became unnecessary and work began to modernize and streamline the pool of vocabulary terms assigned by CRS analysts to classify and group legislation. Those efforts resulted in the far more compact list of legislative subject terms, in use since 2009.

M

major action

Major actions identify stages that condense detailed legislative action steps.

markup

Meeting by a committee or subcommittee during which committee members offer, debate, and vote on amendments to a measure.

See also, committee-related activity.

measure

A legislative vehicle: a bill, joint resolution, concurrent resolution, or simple resolution.

motion to proceed to consider

A motion in the Senate, which, if agreed to by a majority of those present and voting, brings a measure (e.g., bill) or matter (e.g., nomination) before the chamber for consideration. Often referred to simply as a “motion to proceed.”

motion to recommit

In the House, a motion offered by a member of the minority party at the end of floor consideration that, if adopted in its simple form, returns the measure to legislative committee. If combined with “instructions to report back forthwith,” the motion effectively provides one last opportunity for a minority party member to offer an amendment to the measure. In the Senate, the motion may be offered at other times during consideration of a measure, and is not a prerogative of a member of the minority party; it may also be used as a means of offering an amendment.

motion to table

A non-debatable motion in the House and Senate (and in their committees) by which a simple majority may agree to negatively and permanently dispose of a question (e.g., an amendment).

N

NARA - National Archives and Records Administration

After the President signs a bill into law, it is delivered to NARA's Office of the Federal Register where editors assign a public law number.

nomination

The president's formal submission of an individual's name, and the federal government position to which he or she is proposed to be appointed, for Senate consideration and potential confirmation.

O

official title

A bill's sponsor designates an official title which may be amended in the course of legislative action. Bills may also have short titles. The more complex a bill becomes, the more likely the bill is to acquire additional titles.

See also, popular title and short title.

ordered reported

Committee’s formal action of agreeing to report a measure or matter to its chamber. See also, reported.

original bill

An introduced bill that embodies a text approved in a committee markup but not formally introduced prior to the markup. Senate committees are authorized to report original bills within their jurisdictions in addition to reporting measures that have been introduced and referred to them; some House committees also have authority to originate certain measures.

See also, committee-related activity.

P

parliamentarian

Nonpartisan staff officials (one in each chamber, assisted by deputies and assistants) who provide expert advice and assistance to the presiding officer and to members on the application and interpretation of chamber rules, precedents, and practices (including referral of measures to committee).

party caucus / conference

The official organization comprised of all members of a political party serving within a congressional chamber (e.g., the Senate Republican Conference, the House Democratic Caucus, etc.).

ping-pong

point of order

A member’s statement to the presiding officer that the chamber (or committee) is taking action contrary to the rules or precedents, and a demand that they be enforced.

policy area term

The policy area term vocabulary consists of 32 legislative policy areas. One term, which best describes an entire measure, is assigned to every bill or resolution. The policy area term vocabulary is consistently used for all bills and resolutions introduced since 1973 (93rd Congress).

Policy Area terms display to the right of the bill Overview. Find Bills by Subject and Policy Area provides subject term search guidance.

See also, legislative subject term.

popular title

An informal, unofficial name for legislation that may be assigned by the House, Senate, or CRS to improve access. Popular titles are usually not found within official legislative texts (e.g., the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is commonly known as the health care reform bill).

previous question

Non-debatable motion, available in the House and its legislative committees, which, when agreed to, cuts off further debate, prevents the offering of additional amendments, and brings the pending matter to an immediate vote.

private bill

In contrast to public bills (which apply to public matters and deal with individuals only by classes), a private bill proposes to provide benefits to one or more specified individuals (including corporations or institutions), typically when no other legal remedy is available.

privileged nomination

Certain nominations entitled to expedited procedures, pursuant to S.Res. 116 (112th Congress).

procedurally-related measure

Legislation that affects consideration of other legislation (e.g., a rule for consideration, a bill ordered to be reported or passed in lieu of another measure).

Identical bills, companion measures, and legislation with text similarities are other related bill types.

pro forma session

A daily session of either chamber held chiefly to avoid the occurrence of either a recess of more than three days within the annual session or an adjournment sine die (either of which would constitutionally require the consent of the other chamber). Pro forma sessions are typically short, with no business, or very little, conducted.

proposed/offered Senate amendment

A Senate amendment is proposed or offered when a Senator has been recognized by the presiding officer, sends his/her amendment to the desk (or identifies an amendment already at the desk), and the amendment is read by the clerk. The amendment becomes pending before the Senate, and remains pending until disposed of by the Senate. Occasionally the term "called up" is used in lieu of "proposed" or "offered."

Both proposed and submitted amendments are numbered and printed in the Congressional Record.

Q

quorum

Minimum number of members of a chamber (or committee) required for the transaction of certain types of business.

quorum call

Action to formally ascertain the presence of the minimum number of members required to transact business. In the Senate, quorum calls are also commonly used as a sort of “time out” in floor proceedings without recessing the chamber.

R

ranking member

The most senior (though not necessarily the longest-serving) member of the minority party on a committee (or subcommittee). The ranking member typically oversees minority committee staff and may coordinate involvement of the minority party committee members in committee activities.

recess appointment

A temporary presidential appointment, during a recess of the Senate, of an individual to a federal government position, where such appointment usually requires the advice and consent of the Senate.

referral

Assignment of a measure to a committee or committees (or subcommittees) for potential consideration.

See also, committee-related activity.

related bill

A related bill may be a companion measure, an identical bill, a procedurally-related measure, or one with text similarities. Bill relationships are identified by the House, the Senate, or CRS, and refer only to same-Congress measures.

reported

Formal submission of a measure by a committee to its parent chamber or by a subcommittee to its parent committee. See also, ordered reported.

See also, committee-related activity.

reserved bill number

In recent Congresses, the resolution specifying House internal rules of procedure includes reserving bill numbers for assignment by the Speaker. In the 112th Congress (2011-2012) the practice was extended to reserve additional bill numbers for assignment by the Minority Leader.

Resolutions with "Numbering of Bills" sections include: H.Res.5 [114], H.Res.5 [113],H.Res.5 [112], H.Res.5 [111], H.Res.6 [110], H.Res.5 [109], H.Res.5 [108], H.Res.5 [107].

In the Senate, some of the lowest bills numbers are reserved for leadership.

resolution of ratification

A resolution by which the Senate, if supported by a vote of two-thirds, formally gives its advice and consent to a treaty, thereby empowering the President to proceed with ratification of the treaty.

S

short title

In addition to an official title, a bill may be assigned one or more short titles upon introduction, committee or chamber action, or enactment. Short titles may name all or portions of the bill's content. In a display of titles, those that describe the entirety of the bill version appear under a bolded heading (e.g., Short Titles as Passed House), followed by those, if any, that describe portions of the bill. Short titles may change as the bill moves through the legislative process.

See also, official title and popular title.

simple resolution

A form of legislative measure introduced and potentially acted upon by only one congressional chamber and used for the regulation of business only within the chamber of origin. Depending on the chamber of origin, they begin with a designation of either H.Res. or S.Res.

Joint resolutions and concurrent resolutions are other types of resolutions.

slip law

The initial publication of a measure that has become law. Slip laws, printed on paper, are made available within days after enactment and are used until the law is published in a more permanent form. Public and private laws are then reprinted by number in the Statutes at Large, and public laws later incorporated into the U.S. Code.

special rule

A resolution reported by the Rules Committee that, if agreed to by the House, sets the terms for debating and amending a specified measure or measures.

sponsor

A Representative or Senator who introduces or submits a bill or other measure.

subject

There are 2 separate and distinct subject term vocabularies used to facilitate finding bills by subject. See legislative subject term and policy area term.

submitted Senate amendment

An amendment is submitted when a senator files his/her amendment at the desk with the clerk for possible future consideration by the Senate. A submitted amendment is not pending until it is formally proposed/offered by a senator. The term "filed" is sometimes used in lieu of "submitted."

Both proposed and submitted amendments are numbered and printed in the Congressional Record.

supermajority

A term sometimes used for a vote on a matter that requires approval by more than a simple majority of those members present and voting, with a quorum being present; also referred to as extraordinary majority.

suspension of the rules

In the House, a procedure that streamlines consideration of a measure with wide support by prohibiting floor amendments, limiting debate to 40 minutes, and requiring a two-thirds majority for passage. Although rarely used, the Senate may also suspend various rules by a vote of two-thirds following one day’s written notice.

T

text similarities

Legislation that is similar in both content and meaning, for example one bill repeals or amends another, or one bill has been incorporated into another.

Identical bills, companion measures, and procedurally-related measures are other related bill types.

title

treaty

An agreement negotiated and signed by the executive that enters into force if it is approved by a two-thirds vote in the Senate, and is subsequently ratified by the President.

treaty document

The text of a treaty as submitted to the Senate by the executive branch, as well as letters of transmittal from the President and the Secretary of State, and accompanying background documentation.

U

unanimous consent agreement

In the Senate, a proposal that, if agreed to, establishes the procedural guidelines for considering a measure or matter on the floor. If any member objects to such a request, it is not agreed to. Also sometimes called a “UC agreement” or a “time agreement.”

unanimous consent request

A proposal that all members (of a chamber or committee) agree to set aside one or more chamber or committee rules to take some action otherwise not in order. If any member objects to such a request, it is not agreed to.

V

veto

Presidential disapproval of a bill or joint resolution presented to him for enactment into law. If a president vetoes a bill, it can become law only if the House and Senate separately vote (by two-thirds) to override the veto. A less common form of presidential veto – a pocket veto – occurs if Congress has adjourned without the possibility of returning and the president does not sign the measure within the required 10-day (excluding Sundays) period.