Vocabulary Terms

The republican ideal in the U.S. is manifested in the structure and operation of the legislative branch.

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Appointment confirmation
When the Senate votes by a simple majority to approve a nominee of the president.
When Congress agrees that a given department or agency may spend money from the Treasury on something
Baker v. Carr
The 1962 Supreme Court case that decided the one person, one vote rule.
Bill writing
The process of creating legislation and marking it up.
The two major parties working together.
Cloture motion
When senators vote to cut off a debate. It is the only way to end a filibuster.
Groups of people differentiated by demographic or ideological categorizations that come together to form parties or other alliances.
Coining money
A power of the Congress to determine the structure of the money used in the United States and authorize its coining or printing
Committee hearings
Congressional committees bring in witnesses to testify and answer questions, as well as to debate legislation, prior to committee votes
Committee leadership
The majority party gets to have more seats on every committee in that chamber, and thus has the leadership role assigned which controls committee business.
Committee of the Whole
Technically the Committee of the Whole House, all Representatives are part of this committee when it forms and is used for whole-House business like the State of the Union.
Groups in Congress that are "over" certain procedures or policy areas.
Conference Committee
A temporary, ad hoc panel composed of House and Senate conferees which is formed for the purpose of reconciling differences in legislation that has passed both chambers. They are usually convened to resolve bicameral differences on major and controversial legislation.
Declare war clause
Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to declare war. The President, meanwhile, derives the power to direct the military after a Congressional declaration of war from Article II, Section 2, which names the President Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.
Delegate model of representation
When representatives choose their positions based on the positions of their constituents.
Discharge petition
A procedure in Congress to force a bill out of committee and onto the whole floor for debate, without a committee report first
Discretionary spending
Spending that is not already forced by entitlements, which Congress can decide the size of each year
A required benefit given to eligible people regardless of budgetary conditions, such as Social Security and Medicare; also called mandatory spending
Equal protection
The guarantee in the 14th amendment that states shall not deny persons within their jurisdiction equal protection for the law; foundation for civil rights in court cases
Federal budget
The document that controls how much the federal government spends on different items each year; creating this legislation is the most important re-ocurring job of Congress
A tactic used in the Senate to keep debate over a bill going; can only be stopped by a 3/5 cloture vote
Floor debate
When a bill or resolution reaches the entire chamber of either the House or the Senate
Drawing or altering district maps to favor one party over another, by maximizing wasted votes of the other party. Uses cracking and packing
When political parties cannot agree on legislation and as a result the progress of congress stalls
House of Representatives
The chamber of Congress elected through geographic districts, with membership based on population.
House Rules Committee
Often called the "traffic cop" of the House of Representatives, this committee sets rules for debate of bills and other resolutions
House Ways and Means Committee
The tax-writing committee of the House of Representatives, responsible for any revenue-collection bills because of Article I.
Ideological division
Ways that people can be different from each other because of core political beliefs
When the House through a majority vote accuses an official of treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors
Impeachment trial
The Senate conducts this proceeding, and if they vote to convict with a 2/3 supermajority the official is removed from office.
Someone who already holds office and is running for re-election
Lame duck
Describes an elected official or body in the period between the last election and the seating of their replacements.
Legislative caucus
A group of like members of Congress who meet to discuss legislative priorities and sometimes vote together. Grouped by demographics (e.g. Congressional Black Caucus) or by policy area (e.g. Mushroom Caucus).
Legislative oversight
The function of the legislative branch to keep an eye on the goings-on in the executive branch. Often done by holding hearings and other congressional investigation work.
Trading in Congress, usually accomplished as "I will vote for your bill if you vote for mine"
Majority leader
The person in each chamber of Congress with power over the majority party. This is the most powerful person in the Senate, but in the House is outranked by the Speaker of the House.
Majority party in Congress
The party in Congress with more numeric representation. Could be different in each chamber. Gets to control many aspects of that chamber's operations.
Mandatory spending
Spending that is not specifically appropriated by Congress in particular amounts but rather is entitled as benefits to people. Examples: Social Security, Medicare
Minority leader
The person in charge of the minority party in each chamber of Congress. Holds a significant amount of power over their party and is often involved in negotiations with the majority leader, especially in the Senate where supermajorities are often necessary.
Necessary and Proper Clause
Part of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution by which Congress is authorized to make laws needed to carry out their other powers. Sometimes called the Elastic Clause, this has led to Congress gathering and using implied rather than enumerated powers.
Making decisions based on party priorities, in an effort to win against another party. This kind of decisionmaking often leads to legislative gridlock, and also relates to ways that people communicate about political issues.
Party leadership
The people who have formal authority over different levels of political parties
Party line vote
When a vote in a legislature has all members of each party on one side of the vote (either for or against), vs. all members of another party
Politico model of representation
When elected officials balance their responsibility as trustees and delegates based on political advantage
Pork barrel
Directing government money to help particular people in an area in order to get local constituents to support an official
Power of the purse
The ability of the legislature to spend government money by passing laws that authorize and appropriate that money
President of the Senate
A title given to the Vice President who is in charge of parliamentary procedure and tie-breaking in the Senate, but only when present
President Pro Tempore
A title given to a member of the Senate who steps in to run parliamentary procedure for the Vice President when the VP is not around (most of the time)
When the number of members of the House of Representatives from each state is re-balanced based on population counts taken during the census.
When maps for local Congressional districts are re-drawn, typically every ten years.
Rules Committee
Often called the "traffic cop" of the House of Representatives, this committee sets rules for debate of bills and other resolutions
The "upper chamber" of the Congress, with two members drawn from each state. Responsible for higher-order matters like confirming ambassadors, and were originally appointed by state legislatures instead of directly elected.
Shaw v. Reno
Held that congressional districts may not be drawn solely along racial lines, if doing so would violate other norms such as contiguity and compactness
Speaker of the House
The most powerful person in the House of Representatives, the head of the majority party in the House who decides how and when legislation proceeds in the chamber
Standing committee
A permament subject-matter committee in Congress responsible for working on legislation covering some area of policy.
Any form of government revenue that is collected via legislation's effects on people and other economic actors.
Taxing power
The ability to levy (collect) revenue from people by passing laws.
Treaty ratification
When the Senate by a 2/3 vote approves a treaty signed by the president.
Trustee model of representation
When someone is elected to office and, while in office, makes decisions they think are best even if those decisions are unpopular.
Unanimous consent
A procedure in Congress whereby a rule of debate may be adopted as long as no one objects.
The president's ability to say no to a bill. Sends it back to Congress, where it dies if not approved again by 2/3 in both chambers.
Veto override
When both the House and Senate vote to pass a bill that has been vetoed by 2/3 majorities, the bill becomes law over the president's objections.
A role in Congress designed to count and collect votes for a party.