Glossary of the U.S. Senate
Senate Glossary of Terms Used in the Legislative Process
act – Legislation (a bill or joint resolution, see below) which has passed both chambers of Congress in identical form, been signed into law by the president, or passed over his veto, thus becoming law. Technically, this term also refers to a bill that has been passed by one house and engrossed (prepared as an official copy).
adjourn – A motion to adjourn in the Senate (or a committee) ends that day’s session.
adjourn for more than 3 days – Under the Constitution, neither chamber may adjourn for more than three days without the approval of the other. Such approval is obtained in a concurrent resolutions approved by both chambers.
adjournment sine die – The end of a legislative session “without day.” These adjournments are used to indicate the final adjournment of an annual or the two-year session of a Congress.
adjournment to a day and time certain – An adjournment of the Senate that fixes the day and time for its next session.
advice and consent – Under the Constitution, presidential nominations for executive and judicial posts take effect only when confirmed by the Senate, and international treaties become effective only when the Senate approves them by a two-thirds vote.
amendment – A proposal to alter the text of a pending bill or other measure by striking out some of it, by inserting new language, or both. Before an amendment becomes part of the measure, the Senate must agree to it.
amendment in the nature of a substitute – An amendment that would strike out the entire text of a bill or other measure and insert a different full text.
appeal – When the chair rules on a point of order, any senator may appeal the ruling, in which case the full Senate makes a final decision on the point of order by voting whether to sustain or reverse the ruling.
appropriation – The provision of funds, through an annual appropriations act or a permanent law, for federal agencies to make payments out of the Treasury for specified purposes. The formal federal spending process consists of two sequential steps: authorization and then appropriation. Legislation status tables and information about the appropriations process are available on the Appropriations page.
authorization – A statutory provision that obligates funding for a program or agency. An authorization may be effective for one year, a fixed number of years, or an indefinite period. An authorization may be for a definite amount of money or for “such sums as may be necessary.” The formal federal spending process consists of two sequential steps: authorization and then appropriation.
authorizations act – A law that establishes or continues one or more Federal agencies or programs, establishes the terms and conditions under which they operate, authorizes the enactment of appropriations, and specifies how appropriated funds are to be used. Authorizations acts sometimes provide permanent appropriations.
balanced budget – A budget in which receipts equal outlays.
baseline – Projection of the receipts, outlays, and other budget amounts that would ensue in the future without any change in existing policy. Baseline projections are used to gauge the extent to which proposed legislation, if enacted into law, would alter current spending and revenue levels.
bill – The principal vehicle employed by lawmakers for introducing their proposals (enacting or repealing laws, for example) in the Senate. Bills are designated S. 1, S. 2, and so on depending on the order in which they are introduced. They address either matters of general interest (“public bills”) or narrow interest (“private bills”), such as immigration cases and individual claims against the Federal government.
budget authority – Authority provided by law to enter into obligations that will result in outlays of Federal funds. Budget authority may be classified by the period of availability (one-year, multiyear, no-year), by the timing of congressional action (current or permanent), or by the manner of determining the amount available (definite or indefinite).
budget resolution – Legislation in the form of a concurrent resolution setting forth the congressional budget. The budget resolution establishes various budget totals, divides spending totals into functional categories (e.g., transportation), and may include reconciliation instructions to designated House or Senate committees.
Calendar of Business – A Senate publication sent to each lawmaker’s office (and other offices) every day the Senate is in session. It contains information on, for instance, measures reported from the various standing committees, bills in conference, and the status of appropriation bills. Calendar of Business
caucus – From the Algonquian Indian language, a caucus meant “to meet together.” An informal organization of members of the House or the Senate, or both, that exists to discuss issues of mutual concern and possibly to perform legislative research and policy planning for its members. There are regional, political or ideological, ethnic, and economic-based caucuses.
chairman – The presiding officer of a committee or subcommittee. In the Senate, chairmanship is based on seniority of committee tenure, but a senator may not chair more than one standing committee.
chaplain – A clergyman elected by the Senate to open its daily sessions with prayer. The chaplain is also available as an advisor and counselor to senators, senators’ families, and congressional employees.
“christmas tree” bill – Informal nomenclature for a bill on the Senate floor that attracts many, often unrelated, floor amendments. The amendments which adorn the bill may provide special benefits to various groups or interests.
class – Article I, section 3 of the Constitution requires the Senate to be divided into three classes for purposes of elections. Senators are elected to six-year terms, and every two years the members of one class—approximately one-third of the senators—face election or reelection. Terms for senators in Class I expire in 2019, Class II in 2021, and Class III in 2017.
clean bill – Generally, after a committee has amended legislation, the chairman may be authorized by the panel to assemble the changes and what remains unchanged from the original bill and then reintroduce everything as a clean bill. A clean bill may expedite Senate action by avoiding separate floor consideration of each committee amendment.
cloakroom – Democratic and Republican cloakrooms adjacent to the Senate chamber serve as gathering places for party members to discuss chamber business privately.
closed sessions – Closed sessions of the Senate, sometimes referred to as secret sessions, are used for deliberations during impeachment trials, as well as to discuss issues of national security, confidential information, and sensitive communications from the president. Prior to 1795, every session of the Senate was closed.
cloture – The only procedure by which the Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter, and thereby overcome a filibuster. Under the cloture rule (Rule XXII), the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours, but only by vote of three-fifths of the full Senate, normally 60 votes.
committee – Subsidiary organization of the Senate established for the purpose of considering legislation, conducting hearings and investigations, or carrying out other assignments as instructed by the parent chamber.
committee amendment – An amendment recommended by a committee in reporting a bill or other measure.
committee calendar – Senate committees periodically publish a committee calendar that lists the bills and resolutions referred to them, action taken on those measures, and other relevant information.
committee jurisdiction – The subjects and functions assigned to a committee by rule, resolution, precedent, or practice, including legislative matters, oversight and investigations, and nominations of executive officers.
committee membership – Senators are assigned to specific committees by their party conference. Seniority, regional balance, and political philosophy are the most prominent factors in the committee assignment process.
committee on committees – Committees formed in each party conference and responsible for nominating the party’s senators to committee membership and committee leadership positions. Nominations are subject to approval by the full party conference and to a formal vote of the Senate.
committee print – A publication used by committees for various purposes. For example, the rules of each standing committee may be published as a committee print, and drafts of bills or committee reports may be produced as committee prints.
committee substitute – Short for committee amendment in the nature of a substitute.
companion bill or measure – Similar or identical legislation which is introduced in the Senate and House. House and Senate lawmakers who share similar views on legislation may introduce a companion bill in their respective chambers to promote simultaneous consideration of the measure.
concurrent resolution – A legislative measure, designated “S. Con. Res.” and numbered consecutively upon introduction, generally employed to address the sentiments of both chambers, to deal with issues or matters affecting both houses, such as a concurrent budget resolution, or to create a temporary joint committee. Concurrent resolutions are not submitted to the president and thus do not have the force of law.
conditional adjournment – When Congress adjourns for more than three days, authority is often provided the Speaker and president pro tempore (or the Senate majority leader) to reconvene Congress at an earlier date to address an emergency or important issue. This authority is provided in the concurrent resolution authorizing the conditional adjournment.
conferees – Senators appointed to serve on conference committees. They are also called “managers.” Conferees are usually appointed from the committee or committees that reported the legislation; they are expected to try and uphold the Senate’s position on measures when they negotiate with conferees from the other body.
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. Conference committees are usually convened to resolve bicameral differences on major and controversial legislation.
conference, party – The organization of all party members in the chamber. The conferences elect the party and committee leaders as well as rank-and-file committee members from their party. The conferences meet periodically to discuss political strategy and to review party positions on pending legislative business.
conference report – The compromise product negotiated by the conference committee. The “conference report,” which is printed and available to senators, is submitted to each chamber for its consideration, such as approval or disapproval. How to find committee reports.
confirmation – Informal term for the Senate giving “Advice and Consent” to a presidential nomination for an executive or judicial position.
Congressional Record – The substantially verbatim account of daily proceedings on the Senate floor. It is printed for each day the Senate is in session. At the back of each daily issue is the “Daily Digest,” which summarizes the day’s floor and committee activities.
consideration – To “call up” or “lay down” a bill or other measure on the Senate floor is to place it before the full Senate for consideration, including debate, amendment, and voting. Measures normally come before the Senate for consideration by the majority leader requesting unanimous consent that the Senate take it up.
continuing resolution/continuing appropriations – Legislation in the form of a joint resolution enacted by Congress, when the new fiscal year is about to begin or has begun, to provide budget authority for Federal agencies and programs to continue in operation until the regular appropriations acts are enacted.
controlled time – When a unanimous consent agreement limits the time for debate on a bill or other measure and places it under the control of bill floor managers, the time is said to be controlled. Each manager then allows any senator to participate in debate by yielding a specified amount of time to the senator.
deficit (surplus) – The amount by which outlays exceed receipts in a given fiscal period. (A surplus would be the amount by which receipts exceed outlays.)
discretionary spending – Spending (budget authority and outlays) controlled in annual appropriations acts. [HCB Link]
enacted – Once legislation has passed both chambers of Congress in identical form, been signed into law by the president, become law without his signature, or passed over his veto, the legislation is enacted.
engrossed bill – The official copy of a bill or joint resolution passed by the Senate and certified by the secretary of the Senate.
enrolled bill – The final copy of a bill or joint resolution which has passed both chambers in identical form. It is printed on parchment paper, signed by appropriate House and Senate officials, and submitted to the president for signature.
entitlement – A Federal program or provision of law that requires payments to any person or unit of government that meets the eligibility criteria established by law. Entitlements constitute a binding obligation on the part of the Federal Government, and eligible recipients have legal recourse if the obligation is not fulfilled. Social Security and veterans’ compensation and pensions are examples of entitlement programs.
ex officio – Literally, by virtue of one’s office. The term refers to the practice under Senate rules that allows the chairman and ranking minority member of a committee to participate in any of the subcommittees of that committee, but generally not to vote.
executive business – Nominations and treaties; called executive business because these categories of business are received by the Senate from the president, rather than introduced by senators.
Executive Calendar – A list of executive business (i.e., treaties and nominations) available for Senate floor consideration. Archive of Executive Calendars, (1997-present)
executive communication – A message sent to the Senate by the president or other executive branch official. Presidential veto messages are an example of an “executive communication.”
executive session – A portion of the Senate’s daily session in which it considers executive business.
filibuster – Informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions.
fiscal year – The fiscal year is the accounting period for the federal government which begins on October 1 and ends on September 30. The fiscal year is designated by the calendar year in which it ends; for example, fiscal year 2013 begins on October 1, 2012 and ends on September 30, 2013. Congress passes appropriations legislation to fund the government for every fiscal year.
floor – Action “on the floor” is that which occurs as part of a formal session of the full Senate. An action “from the floor” is one taken by a Senator during a session of the Senate. A senator who has been recognized to speak by the chair is said to “have the floor.”
floor amendment – An amendment offered by an individual senator from the floor during consideration of a bill or other measure, in contrast to a committee amendment.
floor leaders – The majority leader and minority leader are elected by their respective party conferences to serve as the chief Senate spokesmen for their parties and to manage and schedule the legislative and executive business of the Senate. By custom, the presiding officer gives the floor leaders priority in obtaining recognition to speak on the floor of the Senate.
floor manager – Senators designated to lead and organize consideration of a bill or other measure on the floor. They usually are the chairman and ranking minority member of the reporting committee or their designees.
germane – On the subject of the pending bill or other business; a strict standard of relevance.
hearing – A meeting of a committee or subcommittee – generally open to the public – to take testimony in order to gather information and opinions on proposed legislation, to conduct an investigation, or review the operation or other aspects of a Federal agency or program.
hold – An informal practice by which a senator informs his or her floor leader that he or she does not wish a particular bill or other measure to reach the floor for consideration. The majority leader need not follow the senator’s wishes, but is on notice that the opposing senator may filibuster any motion to proceed to consider the measure.
item veto – Authority to veto part rather than all of an appropriations act. The president does not now have item-veto authority. He must sign or veto the entire appropriations act. The item veto sometimes is referred to as a line-item veto.
joint committee – Committees including membership from both houses of Congress. Joint committees are usually established with narrow jurisdictions and normally lack authority to report legislation. Chairmanship usually alternates between the House and Senate members from Congress to Congress.
joint meeting – An occasion, often ceremonial, when the House and Senate each adopt a unanimous consent agreement to recess and to meet together to hear an address by various dignitaries, such as foreign leaders.
joint resolution – A legislative measure, designated “S. J. Res.” and numbered consecutively upon introduction, which requires the approval of both chambers and, with one exception, is submitted (just as a bill) to the president for possible signature into law. The one exception is that joint resolutions (and not bills) are used to propose constitutional amendments. These resolutions require a two-thirds affirmative vote in each house but are not submitted to the president; they become effective when ratified by three-quarters of the States.
joint session – When the House and Senate adopt a concurrent resolution to meet together to conduct formal business or to hear an address by the president of the United States.
journal – Under the Constitution, the Senate (and House) is required to keep a Journal of its official proceedings, such as motions agreed to and votes taken. The Journal does not contain Senate debates. Senate rules stipulate that different Journals be kept for legislative and executive (treaties and nominations) proceedings, as well as for confidential legislative proceedings and proceedings when the Senate sits as a court for impeachment of high Federal officials.
“lame duck” session – When Congress (or either chamber) reconvenes in an even-numbered year following the November general elections to consider various items of business. Some lawmakers who return for this session will not be in the next Congress. Hence, they are informally called “lame duck” members participating in a “lame duck” session.
layover – Informal term for a period of delay required by rule. For example, when a bill or other measure is reported from committee, it may be considered on the floor only after it “lies over” for one legislative day and after the written report has been available for two calendar days. Layover periods may be waived by unanimous consent.
leave to sit – Permission for a committee to meet during the proceedings of the parent chamber. Under Senate Rule XXVI committees are forbidden to meet after the first two hours of the Senate’s daily session, and in no case after 2 p.m. while the Senate is in session, without special permission from the majority and minority leaders.
legislative day – A “day” that starts when the Senate meets after an adjournment and ends when the Senate next adjourns. Hence, a legislative day may extend over several calendar days or even weeks and months.
legislative session – That part of the Senate’s daily session in which it considers legislative business (bills, resolutions, and actions related thereto).
majority leader – see Floor Leaders
majority whip – See Whips.
mandatory spending – Spending (budget authority and outlays) controlled by laws other than annual appropriations acts.
markup – The process by which congressional committees and subcommittees debate, amend, and rewrite proposed legislation.
measure – Term embracing bill, resolution and other matters on which the Senate takes action.
minority leader – See Floor Leaders.
minority whip – See Whips.
morning business – Routine business that is supposed to occur during the first two hours of a new legislative day. This business includes receiving messages from the president and from the House of Representatives, reports from executive branch officials, petitions from citizens, memorials from states, and committee reports, and the introduction of bills and submission of resolutions. In practice, the Senate often does this business instead by unanimous consent at other convenient points in the day.
motion to instruct – After the first three steps of establishing a conference committee are completed, each house may instruct the conferees to take a certain position in the conference. These instructions to the conferees are not binding.
motion to proceed to consider – A motion, usually offered by the majority leader to bring a bill or other measure up for consideration. The usual way of bringing a measure to the floor when unanimous consent to do so cannot be obtained. For legislative business, the motion is debatable under most circumstances, and therefore may be subject to filibuster.
motion to table – Used in both the Senate and House, if adopted a motion to table permanently kills a pending matter and ends any further debate on the matter.
“must pass” bill – A vitally important measure that Congress must enact, such as annual money bills to fund operations of the government. Because of their must-pass quality, these measures often attract “riders” (unrelated policy provisos).
nomination – An appointment by the president to executive or judicial office that is subject to Senate confirmation. More on Nominations
nongermane amendment – An amendment that would add new and different subject matter to, or may be irrelevant to, the bill or other measure it seeks to amend. Senate rules permit nongermane amendments in all but a few specific circumstances.
obligation – An order placed, contract awarded, service received, or similar transaction during a given period that will require payments during the same or a future period.
off-budget entities – The budget authority, outlays, and receipts of certain Federal entities that have been excluded from budget totals under provisions of law. At present, off-budget entities include the Social Security trust funds and the Postal Service.
original bill – A bill which is drafted by a committee. It is introduced by the committee or subcommittee chairman after the committee votes to report it, and it is placed directly on the Senate’s Calendar of Business.
outlays – Outlays are 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.
override of a veto – The process by which each chamber of Congress votes on a bill vetoed by the President. To pass a bill over the president’s objections requires a two-thirds vote in each Chamber. Historically, Congress has overridden fewer than ten percent of all presidential vetoes.
oversight – Committee review of the activities of a Federal agency or program.
parliamentarian – The parliamentarian is the Senate’s advisor on the interpretation of its rules and procedures. Staff from the parliamentarian’s office sit on the Senate dais and advise the presiding officer on the conduct of Senate business. The office also refers bills to the appropriate committees on behalf of the Senate’s presiding officer.
parliamentary inquiry – A question from the floor to the presiding officer by a senator requesting a clarification of the procedural situation on the floor. Responses to parliamentary inquiries are not rulings of the presiding officer, but may lead the senator posing the inquiry or another to raise a point of order.
permanent appropriation – Budget authority that becomes available as the result of previously enacted legislation (substantive legislation or prior appropriations act) and does not require current action by Congress. Budget authority is considered to be “current” if provided in the current session of Congress and “permanent” if provided in prior sessions.
pocket veto – The Constitution grants the president 10 days to review a measure passed by the Congress. If the president has not signed the bill after 10 days, it becomes law without his signature. However, if Congress adjourns during the 10-day period, the bill does not become law.
point of order – A claim made by a senator from the floor that a rule of the Senate is being violated. If the chair sustains the point of order, the action in violation of the rule is not permitted.
policy committees – Each party policy committee provides research and other services to senators and also serves as a forum for discussion of party legislative strategy. Each policy committee holds weekly lunches for party members, and the Senate normally takes a recess to allow senators to attend.
president of the Senate – See Vice President.
president pro tempore – A constitutionally recognized officer of the Senate who presides over the chamber in the absence of the vice president. The president pro tempore (or, “president for a time”) is elected by the Senate and is, by custom, the senator of the majority party with the longest record of continuous service.
presidential signature – A proposed law passed by Congress must be presented to the president, who then has 10 days to approve or disapprove it. The president signs bills he supports, making them law. He vetoes a bill by returning it to the house in which it began, usually with a written message. Normally, bills he neither signs nor vetoes within 10 days become law without his signature.
presiding officer – A majority-party senator who presides over the Senate and is charged with maintaining order and decorum, recognizing members to speak, and interpreting the Senate’s rules, practices and precedents.
private law – A private bill enacted into law. Private laws have restricted applicability, often addressing immigration and naturalization issues affecting individuals.
pro forma session – From the Latin, meaning “as a matter of form,” a pro forma session is a brief meeting of the Senate (sometimes only a few minutes in duration).
proxy voting – The practice of allowing a senator to cast a vote in committee for an absent senator. Senate Rule XXVI provides that proxies may not be voted when the absent senator has not been informed of the matter on which he is being recorded and has not requested that he be so recorded.
public debt – Cumulative amounts borrowed by the Treasury Department or the Federal Financing Bank from the public or from another fund or account. The public debt does not include agency debt (amounts borrowed by other agencies of the Federal Government). The total public debt is subject to a statutory limit.
public law – A public bill or joint resolution that has passed both chambers and been enacted into law. Public laws have general applicability nationwide.
question – Any matter on which the Senate is to vote, such as passage of a bill, adoption of an amendment, agreement to a motion, or an appeal.
quorum – The number of senators that must be present for the Senate to do business. The Constitution requires a majority of senators (51) for a quorum. Often, fewer senators are actually present on the floor, but the Senate presumes that a quorum is present unless the contrary is shown by a roll call vote or quorum call.
quorum call – A call of the roll to establish whether a quorum is present. If any senator “suggests the absence of a quorum,” the presiding officer must direct the roll to be called. Often, a quorum call is terminated by unanimous consent before completion, which permits the Senate to use the quorum call to obtain a brief delay to work out some difficulty or await a senator’s arrival.
ranking minority member – The highest ranking (and usually longest serving) minority member of a committee or subcommittee. Senators may not serve as ranking minority member on more than one standing committee.
receipts – Collections from the public and from payments by participants in certain social insurance and other Federal programs. These collections consist primarily of tax revenues and social insurance premiums, but also include receipts from court fines, certain fees, and deposits of earnings by the Federal Reserve System. Total receipts are compared with total outlays in calculating the budget surplus or deficit.
recess – A temporary interruption of the Senate’s proceedings, sometimes within the same day. The Senate may also recess overnight rather than adjourn at the end of the day. Recess also refers to longer breaks, such as the breaks taken during holiday periods, pursuant to concurrent resolution.
recognize – The chair permits a senator to speak by recognizing him or her; the senator then “has the floor.” When time is controlled, a senator must have time yielded to him or her before he or she can be recognized.
reconciliation bill – A bill containing changes in law recommended pursuant to reconciliation instructions in a budget resolution. If the instructions pertain to only one committee in a chamber, that committee reports the reconciliation bill. If the instructions pertain to more than one committee, the Budget Committee reports an omnibus reconciliation bill, but it may not make substantive changes in the recommendations of the other committees.
reconciliation instruction – A provision in a budget resolution directing one or more committees to report (or submit to the Budget Committee) legislation changing existing law in order to bring spending, revenues, or the debt-limit into conformity with the budget resolution. The instructions specify the committees to which they apply, indicate the appropriate dollar changes to be achieved, and usually provide a deadline by which the legislation is to be reported or submitted.
reconciliation process – A process established in the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 by which Congress changes existing laws to conform tax and spending levels to the levels set in a budget resolution. Changes recommended by committees pursuant to a reconciliation instruction are incorporated into a reconciliation measure.
reconsider – Senate rules permit one motion to reconsider any question decided by vote, if offered by a senator who voted on the winning side. Normally a supporter of the outcome immediately moves to reconsider the vote, and the same senator or another immediately moves to table this motion, thus securing the outcome of the vote.
referral – After a bill or resolution is introduced it is normally referred to the committee having jurisdiction over the subject of the bill. In the Senate referrals are generally made to the committee with jurisdiction over the predominant subject matter in the bill or resolution, but measures may be referred to more than one committee by unanimous consent.
regular meeting day – Senate Rule XXVI requires that all committees designate at least one day a month on which it will meet to transact business. Additional meetings may be called by the chairman or by demand of a majority of a committee’s members.
relevant – Many unanimous consent agreements require amendments to a specific bill or other measure to be relevant to the measure.
report – Senate committees usually publish a committee report to accompany the legislation they have voted out. These reports are numbered consecutively in the order in which they are filed in the Senate. Committee reports discuss and explain the purpose of measures and contain other, related information. The term may also refer to the action taken by a committee (“report the legislation”) to submit its recommendations to the Senate.
rescission – The cancellation of budget authority previously provided by Congress. The Impoundment Control Act of 1974 specifies that the president may propose to Congress that funds be rescinded. If both Houses have not approved a rescission proposal (by passing legislation) within 45 days of continuous session, any funds being withheld must be made available for obligation.
Riddick’s Senate Procedure – Named after Senate Parliamentarian Emeritus Floyd M. Riddick, this Senate document contains the contemporary precedents and practices of the Senate. It is updated periodically by the Senate Parliamentarian.
rider – Informal term for a nongermane amendment to a bill or an amendment to an appropriation bill that changes the permanent law governing a program funded by the bill.
roll call vote – A vote in which each senator votes “yea” or “nay” as his or her name is called by the clerk, so that the names of senators voting on each side are recorded. Under the Constitution, a roll call vote must be held if demanded by one-fifth of a quorum of senators present, a minimum of 11.
scheduling – Senate practice today generally concedes to the majority leader the prerogative of arranging the floor schedule of the Senate and making unanimous consent requests and motions to proceed to consider bills and other items of business. The majority leader is also chiefly responsible for negotiating unanimous consent agreements governing the consideration of items of business.
scorekeeping – Procedures for tracking and reporting on the status of congressional budgetary actions, including up-to-date tabulations and reports on congressional actions affecting budget authority, receipts, outlays, the surplus or deficit, and the public debt limit.
secretaries, party – The secretary for the majority and the secretary for the minority are elected to serve as scheduling and information coordinators between the party floor leaders and individual senators within the party. The party secretaries may also assist their party conference with its work.
secretary of the Senate – The chief legislative officer nominated by the majority party conference and elected by the Senate. The secretary affirms the accuracy of bill text by signing all measures that pass the Senate. The secretary supervises the preparation and printing of bills and reports, the publication of the Congressional Record and Senate journals, and other matters.
select or special committee – A committee established by the Senate for a limited time period to perform a particular study or investigation. These committees might be given or denied authority to report legislation to the Senate.
Senate Manual – A document that contains the Senate’s standing rules and orders and other laws and regulations that apply to the Senate. It is usually published once each new Congress.
senator – The Constitution requires that a senator be at least 30 years old, a citizen of the United States for at least nine years, and an inhabitant of the State from which he or she is elected. A person elected or appointed to the Senate and duly sworn is a senator.
seniority – The status given senators according to their length of service, which entitles a senator with greater seniority to preferential treatment in matters such as committee assignments.
sergeant at arms – The chief security officer of the Senate, the sergeant at arms and staff in the office help to preserve order in the Senate chamber, the Senate galleries, and the Senate side of the Capitol. The sergeant at arms is elected by the Senate upon the nomination of the majority party conference.
session – The period during which Congress assembles and carries on its regular business. Each Congress generally has two regular sessions (a first session and a second session), based on the constitutional mandate that Congress assemble at least once each year.
simple resolution – Designated “S. Res.,” simple resolutions are used to express nonbinding positions of the Senate or to deal with the Senate’s internal affairs, such as the creation of a special committee. They do not require action by the House of Representatives.
slip law – A few days after a law has been enacted, it is officially published first as a “slip law.” Slip laws are unbound and printed on one or a few pages of paper.
standing committee – Permanent committees established under the standing rules of the Senate and specializing in the consideration of particular subject areas. There are currently 16 standing committees.
star print – Star prints are corrected editions of Congressional publications identifiable by stars printed at the lower left-hand corner of their title pages or covers. Sometimes the words ‘star print’ also appears adjacent to the star. Star prints take precedence over the original print of a report or document.
statutes at large – A chronological listing of the laws enacted each Congress. They are published in volumes numbered by Congress.
statutory limit on the public debt – The maximum amount, established in law, of public debt that can be outstanding. The limit covers virtually all debt incurred by the Federal Government (primarily the Treasury Department), including borrowing from trust funds, but excludes some debt incurred by agencies.
subcommittee – Subunit of a committee established for the purpose of dividing the committee’s workload. Recommendations of a subcommittee must be approved by the full committee before being reported to the Senate.
supplemental appropriation – Budget authority provided in an appropriations act in addition to regular or continuing appropriations already provided. Supplemental appropriations generally are made to cover emergencies, such as disaster relief, or other needs deemed too urgent to be postponed until the enactment of next year’s regular appropriations act.
supplemental, minority, and additional views – Senate Rule XXVI requires that, when a committee (other than the Appropriations Committee) reports a measure, committee members may have three days to file statements providing their views on the measure which will be included in the committee’s written report.
table, motion to – A senator may move to table any pending question. The motion is not debatable, and agreement to the motion is equivalent to defeating the question tabled. The motion is used to dispose quickly of questions the Senate does not wish to consider further.
trust funds – Funds collected and used by the Federal Government for carrying out specific purposes and programs according to terms of a trust agreement or statute, such as the Social Security trust funds.
unanimous consent – A senator may request unanimous consent on the floor to set aside a specified rule of procedure so as to expedite proceedings. If no Senator objects, the Senate permits the action, but if any one senator objects, the request is rejected. Unanimous consent requests with only immediate effects are routinely granted, but ones affecting the floor schedule, the conditions of considering a bill or other business, or the rights of other senators, are normally not offered, or a floor leader will object to it, until all senators concerned have had an opportunity to inform the leaders that they find it acceptable.
unanimous consent agreement – A unanimous consent request setting terms for the consideration of a specified bill or other measure. These agreements are usually proposed by the majority leader or floor manager of the measure, and reflect negotiations among senators interested in the measure. Many are “time agreements,” which limit the time available for debate and specify who will control that time. Many also permit only a list of specified amendments, or require amendments to be to the measure. Many also contain other provisions, such as empowering the majority leader to call up the measure at will or specifying when consideration will begin or end.
user fees – Fees charged to users of goods or services provided by the Federal Government. In levying or authorizing these fees, Congress determines whether the revenue should go into the Treasury or should be available to the agency providing the goods or services.
veto – The procedure established under the Constitution by which the president refuses to approve a bill or joint resolution and thus prevents its enactment into law. A regular veto occurs when the president returns the legislation to the house in which it originated. The president usually returns a vetoed bill with a message indicating his reasons for rejecting the measure. The veto can be overridden only by a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House.
vice president – Under the Constitution, the vice president serves as president of the Senate. He may vote in the Senate in the case of a tie, but is not required to. The president pro tempore (and others designated by him) usually perform these duties during the vice president’s frequent absences from the Senate.
voice vote – A vote in which the presiding officer states the question, then asks those in favor and against to say “Yea” or “Nay,” respectively, and announces the result according to his or her judgment. The names or numbers of senators voting on each side are not recorded.
vote – Unless rules specify otherwise, the Senate may agree to any question by a majority of senators voting, if a quorum is present. The Chair puts each question by voice vote unless the “yeas and nays” are requested, in which case a roll call vote occurs.
whips – Assistants to the floor leaders who are also elected by their party conferences. The majority and minority whips (and their assistants) are responsible for mobilizing votes within their parties on major issues. In the absence of a party floor leader, the whip often serves as acting floor leader.
yeas and nays – A senator who wants a roll call vote on a pending question asks for the “yeas and nays” on the question. The request will be granted if seconded by one-fifth of a quorum, but this action does not bring debate to an end; it only means that whenever debate does end, a roll call vote will occur.
yield – When a senator who has been recognized to speak “yields” to another, he or she permits the other to speak while the first senator retains the floor. Technically, a senator may yield to another only for a question.
yield the floor – A senator who has been recognized to speak yields the floor when he or she completes his or her remarks and terminates his or her recognition.
yield time – When the Senate has reached a unanimous consent agreement limiting the time for debate and placing it under the control of floor managers, a senator may be recognized to speak only if a manager yields the senator a specified amount of time to speak. The chair then recognizes the senator receiving the time, not the manager who yields the time, to hold the floor.