Glossary of legislative terms

February 23, 2021

This article is part of Advocacy Basics: Working with Congress.

As a lobbying organization, RESULTS is deeply involved in the federal legislative process. This page is a reference for the terms you may encounter as you take action with Congress. It is not a comprehensive list of legislative jargon, but rather a list of those terms we feel are most relevant to the work of RESULTS.

Learn more about the legislative process to put these terms in context.

302(a) Allocation

The 302(a) allocation of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 directs the Budget Committees to distribute among the congressional committees the total spending figures that it has laid out for each of the 20 budget functions. These figures are listed in a table called the 302(a) allocation that is attached to the budget resolution. Thus, the 302(a) allocation sets the limit of the funding level allotted to the Committee on Appropriations and consequently the Appropriations Bills as well.

302(b) Allocation

The 302(b) allocation of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 refers to the specific spending level given by the chairman of the Committee on Appropriations to each of its twelve subcommittees. RESULTS works to ensure that the subcommittees that direct funding toward our programs (specifically the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Agencies Subcommittee of Appropriations and the Labor, Health, Human Services, Education, and Related Activities Subcommittee of Appropriations) receive a high 302(b) allocation.


An act is a bill that has become a law after having been approved by both chambers of Congress as well as the president (or having been passed over the president’s veto).


Adjournment is the termination of a House, Senate, committee, or subcommittee session for the day. The action is “to adjourn.”


An amendment may refer to a proposal of a member of Congress to alter the text of a pending bill or other measure, either by striking out a specific part of it, by inserting new language, or by doing both. The Senate must agree to any amendments before they take effect. An amendment can either be made to a bill or to another amendment. It is generally proposed, debated, and voted upon in the same way as a bill.

A Constitutional Amendment: refers to a change made to a written nation or state constitution.

A Floor Amendment: refers to an amendment to a bill or resolution offered by a member of Congress during floor consideration.

Appropriations Bill

An appropriations bill is a legislative motion that authorizes the government to spend money for a specific purpose. Twelve appropriations bills are created annually (sometimes one more or one less that twelve) in both the Senate and the House Committee on Appropriations. Specifically, each of the twelve subcommittees within the Committee on Appropriations has the responsibility of formulating one appropriations bill. These bills are essential to RESULTS’ efforts to achieve greater funding toward our global and domestic priorities.

Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill

The Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill is perhaps the most relevant of the twelve appropriations bills to our global work to end hunger and poverty. This bill is considered in the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Affairs and provides funding to Basic Education, HIV/AIDS, child survival programs, tuberculosis, UNICEF, microfinance programs, and other foreign assistance activities. Within the “Foreign Ops” Appropriations Bill, Basic Education and microenterprise are funded under the Development Assistance Account (DA), while most of our health programs are funded within the Child Survival and Health Programs Fund.

Appropriations Committees

The House and Senate Committees on Appropriations are responsible for determining the funding levels of the government of the United States; they hold the “power of the purse.” The House and Senate Committees on Appropriations divide the budget for consideration among each of their 12 subcommittees. Each appropriations subcommittee holds hearings and votes on funding totals for agencies under its jurisdiction. After the subcommittees complete work on their bills, they are sent to the full committee. If approved, the bills are then passed on to the floor of the appropriate chamber. When the the House and Senate versions of the bills are different, they are sent to a conference committee, which reconciles them into one bill for reconfirmation by both houses before it is sent to the president.

RESULTS particularly focuses its efforts on influencing governmental spending levels in two of the twelve Appropriations Subcommittees: State, Foreign Operations, and Related Affairs and Labor, Health, Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies.

Why Appropriations Matters to RESULTS: The annual appropriations process is critical to achieving RESULTS’ anti-poverty goals. The foreign aid funding bill – called the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill – is one of the annual funding bills and is the most important bill for our Global poverty goals; it is the primary source of funding for lifesaving international health programs, basic education, microcredit, and other priorities. All members of Congress can have an important voice early on in shaping this bill by writing to and speaking with the leaders on the subcommittee before they begin drafting the bill. If dozens of members express support for the critical priorities we have identified, it will help build momentum and allow the subcommittee leaders to be bolder knowing they have the backing of their colleagues.

Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies: House and Senate

Given that the Appropriations Committee is in charge of funding, this appropriations subcommittee (called the Labor HHS Subcommittee for short) handles funding for the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor. The subcommittee is important to RESULTS because domestic TB programs are funded through this subcommittee’s appropriations bill.

Senate Subcommittee on Labor HHS

Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: House and Senate

The Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs has the responsibility of creating the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill, which is perhaps the most relevant appropriations bill to our work at RESULTS; it provides funding to Basic Education, HIV/AIDS, child survival programs, tuberculosis, UNICEF, microfinance programs, and other foreign assistance activities.

Appropriations Subcommittees – Complete List

These 12 Subcommittees on Appropriations exist in both the House and the Senate:

Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies

Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies


Energy and Water Development

Financial Services and General Government

Homeland Security

Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies

Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies

Legislative Branch

Military Construction, Veterans Affairs (VA), and Related Agencies

State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs

Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies

Authorization and Authorizing Committees

Authorization refers to the process by which governmental programs are created, changed, or continued under specific terms. As its name implies, authorizing legislation gives the appropriation committees permission to appropriate funds for a program, usually setting a limit on the amount of money that can be appropriated. Any program or agency requires authorization before it can receive money from the appropriations committee. Once the terms of a program are set, the program will continue to be funded until the government wishes to change the terms. These types of programs fall under the category of government spending called “mandatory spending.” The committees that debate mandatory spending levels for these programs are called authorizing committees. They do not actually appropriate the money themselves; they determine how money is to be spent and give approval to the appropriations committee to fund a program under their recommended terms.

Authorizing Legislation

Authorizing legislation has several functions: (1) to create, continue, or alter an agency or program for a time; (2) to lay out the responsibilities, the organizational structure, and the function of an agency or program; (3) to authorize a specific amount of money that may be appropriated to an agency or program. However, the authorizing legislation does not give out money (this is the job of the appropriations bills) but rather can set a spending limit for a program or agency.

Authorizing legislation is introduced by any member of Congress before it undergoes the complex process of being passed into law. Consideration of this type of legislation is therefore separate from the federal budget process. RESULTS will often encourage members of Congress to sponsor or cosponsor an authorizing bill that will have a positive impact upon the programs that we support.

Budget Aggregates

The budget aggregates section of the budget resolution details targets for the government in spending, revenue, surplus, and deficit. This is the other section of the budget resolution that accompanies the budget functions.

Budget Authority (BA)

Budget authority (BA) refers to the authority of the government to set specific levels of federal funds that its agencies may spend. Congress may set these spending levels through its appropriations bills, and it can specify how this money must be spent through authorizing legislation. Congress also can make these funds available for one year or for several years to come. One can think of budget authority as placing a certain amount of money into a checking account – this money is then spent through budget outlays.

Budget Committees

The Senate and House Budget Committees define their tasks as “drafting Congress’ annual budget plan and monitoring action on the budget for the Federal Government.” The Budget Committees prepare a budget resolution for each fiscal year. This primer on the federal budget process by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains how the budget is created by the president and Congress each year.

Senate Budget Committee Website:

House Budget Committee Website:

Budget Functions/ Functional Allocations

There are 20 “budget functions” or “functional allocations,” which are generally termed as categories of spending. The budget resolution created each year includes targets for the amounts that Congress is permitted to spend in each of these budget functions, examples of which include transportation, agriculture, and health. Two of the budget functions relate to RESULTS’ work especially: Function 150 Account and Function 920 Account.

Budget Resolution

A budget resolution serves as the general framework within which Congress will make its decisions about the congressional budget by setting specific spending and taxing levels. Budget resolutions are “concurrent” congressional resolutions – that is to say, they do not have the force of law and they do not require the president’s signature. Thus, they also do not directly provide funding to any organization or program, but they establish the structure of the budget. In doing so, a budget resolution sets targets for governmental spending in twenty different budget functions, while considering total revenue, the deficit, and the allotted money that will be used for two types of spending: discretionary and mandatory.

Congress begins to create the budget resolution in February, after receiving the president’s budget request. Specifically, the House and the Senate Budget Committees hold the responsibility of creating a budget resolution, which will be debated in each chamber before being reconciled into one document in a conference committee.

See the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ primer on the federal budget process for greater detail.


A caucus has several definitions but generally refers to a group of people possessing similar ideals or being part of the same political party that meet with each other to coordinate the group’s actions. A Congressional Caucus (usually with a capitalized C) refers to a separate group within either the House or the Senate that meets to discuss its interests of mutual concern. There are several caucuses, the most well-known of which include the Congressional Black Caucus (a group of African American Members of Congress) and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (a group which voices the views of Hispanics in the United States).


A chairman (chair, for short) is the legislator who presides over a committee or a subcommittee. In the Senate, chairs are selected on the basis of seniority of committee tenure (though a senator may not chair more than one standing committee).


The only procedure by which the U.S. Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter, and thereby overcome a filibuster. 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.

Committees – the Three Types

These are the three basic types of committees. We also refer more generally to Authorizing Committees and Appropriations Committees, which are both standing committees.

  1. Standing Committees

Standing committees are permanent panels which are established to aid either the House or the Senate in accomplishing its duties. The committees usually are granted legislative jurisdiction by the parent assembly over a specific area of legislation. Therefore, they consider bills and issues and subsequently recommend measures for consideration in their respective Houses. These committees have the responsibility of overseeing agencies, programs, and activities in their jurisdiction. Standing committees usually recommend funding levels for government programs and operations included within their particular subject areas and they also have jurisdiction over appropriations, taxation, various other revenues such as user fees, and direct spending such as Social Security. Thus, standing committees may meet for a variety of reasons including the “markup” of legislation or internal budget and personnel matters. Examples of standing committees include the Committee on Appropriations and the Committee on Foreign Relations.

  1. Select Committees

Select committees are generally established by a parent assembly because the existing standing committee system does not address an issue comprehensively or because a specific incident sparks interest in an investigation or study. At times, they conduct investigations and studies, or at other times, they consider measures. Examples of select committees in the Senate include the Select Committee on Ethics and the Select Committee on Indian Affairs. A select committee may be either permanent or temporary, while a special committee is similar in function but is established for a limited amount of time.

  1. Joint Committees

Joint Committees are comprised of members of both chambers and are usually permanent panels with narrow jurisdictions. They are to consider measures and report legislation, but they do release research studies and direct oversight. Conference committees are temporary joint committees that resolve differences in legislation that has passed both chambers of Congress.

Conference Committee

Joint committee temporarily formed to reconcile differences between legislation that has passed both the House and Senate. Conference committee members are normally key members of the committee(s) that have jurisdiction over the legislation (e.g. a Farm Bill conference committee will have members from the House and Senate agriculture committees). Once a compromise agreement is reached in the conference committee, the compromise bill is sent back to the House and Senate for a final vote; amendments to the bill are not permitted during the final vote.


The United States Congress comprises the legislative, or law-making, branch of the United States government, divided into the House of Representatives and the Senate. The bicameral (two-chambered) system ensures that there are checks and balances within the legislative branch. The primary responsibility of Congress (as granted under Article I, Section I of the United States Constitution) is to write, debate, and pass bills, which are sent to the president for approval.

The House of Representatives is allotted representation based upon population and includes 435 members, each representing a unique and non-overlapping congressional district – part or all of one state. The Senate has two from each state, for a total of 100 senators.

Congressmen/Women or Members of Congress

The terms “congressmen/congresswomen” and “members of Congress” refer to members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Generally, there are three different titles for legislatures: “representatives” are members of the House of Representatives, “senators” are members of the Senate, and “congressman/women” are also members of the House of Representatives (synonymous with “representative”). Note that although congressman/woman is technically a term for a member of either house, it would be a faux pas to refer to a senator as “congressman/woman” (though a senator is indeed a “member of Congress”).


A constituent is a person who lives within the district of a legislator; senators and congressmen feel that they must respond to the needs and desires of their constituents.

Continuing Resolution (CR)

A continuing resolution (CR) allows for government departments, agencies, and programs to continue to be funded when Congress and the president are unable to pass all of the annual appropriations bills by October 1, the start of the government’s fiscal year budget calendar. A continuing resolution (which must be passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president) funds agencies for a certain period of time at the same funding level as the previous year.


A deficit occurs when the government spends more money than it takes in from taxes and other sources.

Direct Spending

Direct spending is a synonym for mandatory spending.

Discretionary Spending

Discretionary spending is one of the two types of governmental spending, along with mandatory spending. Specifically, discretionary spending refers to the funding levels determined each year in the annual appropriations bills that are set by Congress for the use or purpose that it chooses. The discretionary budget accounts for about one-third of the federal government’s total spending. Money in this category of spending is generally used for such programs as housing and education and foreign aid. The president and Congress must act each year to ensure that spending toward these programs continues. RESULTS greatly focuses upon influencing discretionary spending levels each year in the federal budget process.

The committees that determine the funding levels for the programs that the federal government funds on an annual basis for the discretionary type of spending are called “Appropriations Committees.”


Legislation that is “dropped” means that it is introduced or proposed again.


An earmark is given to a provision included in a regular appropriations bill that sets aside funding within a particular account for a more explicit function or program. Earmarks are often used by legislators to direct money to a certain activity that will take place in his or her home state. The practice of including earmarks in the budget is generally criticized, particularly because earmarks tend to be given out by party leaders in exchange for votes on an issue advocated for by the party leader. Moreover, they are usually thrown into the bill without being considered by the entire House or Senate. This happens because they are added during the conference committee stage of the process, so that when the bill is sent to the entire chamber once again, a member of Congress must vote against the entire bill in order to oppose the earmark. The same issue arises when the bill is sent to the president, who does not wish to stall the process and therefore must sign a bill loaded with earmarks.

[Emergency] Supplemental Spending Bill

An [emergency] supplemental spending bill is meant to be used when an unanticipated circumstance needs funding after the budget for the current fiscal year has already been approved. For instance, a supplemental spending bill might be needed in order to respond to natural disasters. Emergency supplemental spending bills were once a rarity, but have now become much more common, especially since the U.S. military invasion of Iraq. Many criticize these spending bills, as they have grown dramatically in size and often include money for unrelated programs that do not appear urgent; because they have been used for predictable, as opposed to emergency, spending; and because they reduce transparency of the overall budget process.

Entitlement Programs

Entitlement programs are created by the federal government to provide payments to certain individuals or units of government under specific criteria. Funds for these types of programs are set under mandatory spending by the number of people eligible for the coming fiscal year. The government is bound by law to provide these funds to qualified individuals, unless Congress alters the eligibility criteria. Entitlement programs consume the largest amount of the government’s budget, and examples of these programs include Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security.

Ex Officio

Ex officio is a Latin term meaning “by virtue of office or position.” The term refers to a practice that allows the chairman and ranking minority member of a committee to participate in any of the subcommittees of that committee, but he/she is generally not allowed to vote in the subcommittee.

Fiscal Year (FY)

The fiscal year is the twelve month period for which the government plans to use its funds; it is the budget calendar. The fiscal year for the national government runs from October 1 through September 30.

Floor Privileges and Being “On the Floor”

Floor privileges determine who is allowed “on the floor” of either the House or the Senate – going to the floor specifically refers to debates, proceedings, and hearings that take place in the full assembly of either chamber. Only the following people are allowed on the floor: senators, representatives, their staff, Senate officers, top executive branch officials, members of the Supreme Court, foreign legislators, and several other officials (as well as former senators, presidents and vice-presidents, speakers of the House, and Senate officers). Floor privileges for lobbyists were revoked in the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2006.

Function 150 Account

The Function 150 Account refers to the part of the budget that provides funding for the United States’ activities abroad, including maintaining embassies and providing humanitarian or U.S. military aid. It is one of the 20 budget functions to which the Appropriations Committee sub-allocates money each year in the federal budget process as explained by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Function 920 Account

The Function 920 Account is one of the 20 budget functions to which the Appropriations Committee sub-allocates money each year in the federal budget process as explained in this Center on Budget and Policy Priorities primer. This function directs money to various “allowances.”

The use of the 920 account as an offset directs the appropriators to find the savings necessary to fund a measure.

It is a balancing measure: the result of such an amendment is that the overall discretionary allocation in the budget resolution is unchanged, with adoption of the amendment signaling a commitment for spending resources on a particular priority without specifying where reductions should come from, ultimately leaving the real decisions to the Appropriations Committee.

Function 920-Allowances are a mechanism used in presidential budget requests and congressional budget resolutions to “display the budgetary effects of proposals that cannot be easily distributed across other budget functions because the precise effects are uncertain, the proposals are not clearly specified, or they affect multiple functions” (Chairman’s Mark, FY 2003 Senate Budget Resolution, p. 57).

The 920 offset is a mechanism to add funding without raising taxes, directly cutting spending elsewhere (even though such cuts will need to be distributed in some way), or increasing the deficit.

House of Representatives and Representatives

The House of Representatives (often called the House for short) is one of the two chambers, along with the Senate, that make up Congress. As part of the legislative branch of the United States Government, it has the responsibility of making laws. The powers of the House of Representatives include the following: initiating appropriation and taxation legislation as well as determining whether a government official should be put on trial before the Senate for crimes against the United States.

Members of the House of Representatives are also referred to as representatives or congressmen/congresswomen. There are 435 members of the House, each representing a congressional district (or area of a state); thus, the number of representatives is based upon the number of districts in a state. The House of Representatives is led by the Speaker of the House, who is chosen by the majority political party in the House. Representatives are elected for 2 year terms.


Language refers to specific guidelines or instructions written in a bill that direct how the funds of the bill should be spent.


Legislation is the act of making laws or enacting laws. A proposal for a law is introduced to Congress in one of the following four forms:

  1. Bill

A bill is a proposed a new law, which can be drafted by anyone but can only be introduced by members of either the House or the Senate, who in turn become the bill’s sponsor(s). It is the form used for most legislation.

  1. Joint Resolution

A joint resolution is very similar to a bill, and the two forms of congressional action are often used interchangeably. It may originate in either the House or the Senate (not jointly in both houses, as is often incorrectly assumed), and it must be passed in the same way as a bill (see this legislative process explainer from The one difference is that unlike bills, joint resolutions are used to propose constitutional amendments, which require a two-thirds affirmative vote in each house but are not submitted to the president; if ratified by three-quarters of the states, these resolutions become effective.

  1. Concurrent Resolution

A concurrent resolution is employed for the following reasons: (1) to express the collective sentiment of both houses on public policy issues; (2) to deal with matters affecting the operation of both chambers; or (3) to create a temporary joint committee. Since concurrent resolutions are not submitted to the president and therefore do not have the force of law, they are used merely to express facts, principles, opinions, and purposes of both houses. They can also originate in either the House or the Senate and must be passed by both chambers to be effective. The Budget Resolution is an example of a concurrent resolution.

  1. Simple Resolution

A simple resolution raises matters related to the rules, the operation, or the opinion of either House alone. They are considered only by the chamber in which they were introduced and do not become laws. As an example, a simple resolution could involve modifying or proposing an internal rule or creating a new committee within one of the two Houses.


The legislature is the branch of government that has the power to make laws, separate from the executive and judicial branches. A legislator is a person who writes and passes these laws as part of the legislature. The legislature in the United States Government is Congress.


A lobbyist is a person who tries to influence legislation on behalf of a special interest. At RESULTS, we lobby members of Congress to increase funding for our programs of interest, and to include language establishing policies we favor.

Majority and Minority Leaders

The majority and minority leaders are elected by their respective chambers as the leaders of their parties that direct activities when a measure is being considered “on the floor.” There is a majority and a minority leader for the House of Representatives as well as for the Senate. They are the chief spokesmen for their parties. The majority leader (the leader of the party that currently holds the majority in each chamber of Congress) customarily is recognized to speak on the floor before the minority leader. Majority and minority leaders often meet with each other, as well as with the Speaker of the House, to reach agreements on controversial issues. They also are usually assisted by whips.

Mandatory Spending

Mandatory spending is one of the two types of governmental spending, along with discretionary spending. It is enacted by law and does not depend on any annual appropriations bill. This type of spending makes up two-thirds of the total federal budget per year. It mostly includes entitlement programs that are consistently funded each year based upon the rules set forth by them. When Congress creates a program, such as Medicaid, it lays out who will be eligible to receive financial benefits under the program, often determined by such criteria as age or income. Congress then estimates the number of people each year that will be eligible for the program, using this number to formulate its spending for the program. The president and Congress can change the level of mandatory spending for a program by altering the criteria for eligibility or the formula for payment. However, the government does not need to take action annually to ensure that the program continues to be funded.

The committees that set policy and the maximum funding levels allowed for these types of entitlement programs are called “Authorizing Committees.”

See the this federal budget process primer by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to read more about government spending.

“Markup” Sessions

“Markup” sessions occur when a committee or subcommittee reviews the text of the bill after public hearings, in order to debate, amend, and rewrite the proposed legislation. The views of both sides are studied in detail before a vote is taken to determine whether the committee will report the bill to the full committee favorably, with or without amendments, or unfavorably. The committee may also suggest that the full committee “table” it (postpone action) indefinitely. Both chambers require a minimum quorum of one-third of a committee’s members to hold a markup session.


An offset is a cut in funding elsewhere to cover the expense of an added spending item. It is generally employed when members of Congress wish to increase spending to a program, since they in turn look to cut funding somewhere else in order not to increase the government’s overall spending.

Omnibus Appropriations Bill

An omnibus appropriations bill is a consolidated version of several appropriations bills. The Appropriations Committee may decide to create an omnibus bill if they are struggling to pass all of the appropriations bills by October 1, perhaps due to disagreements among legislators or to a large amount of work being done on another spending bill.


Budget outlays refer to the money that the government actually spends in a fiscal year, as opposed to the money that has been appropriated for that year. They are paid from the Treasury, generally in the form of checks, electronic funds transfers, or cash disbursements.

Public Hearings or Open Witness Hearings

Public hearings are hosted by standing committees in Congress when a bill is of sufficient importance to require greater input from individuals not on the committee. These hearings are open to the public, and an official reporter records testimony. Members of the House or the Senate, cabinet officers and high-ranking government officials, representatives of interest groups, and interested private individuals are all free to testify. Prior to testifying, the witnesses must submit written statements that they will then summarize orally, before committee members question the witnesses. The committee gathers the information and perspectives of the witnesses, identifies problems, gauges support for and opposition to measures and proposals, and builds a record of action on committee proposals. The transcript of the testimony is made available for inspection in the office of the clerk of the committee and is often printed for distribution among committee members.


A quorum refers to the minimum number of senators or house members who must be present in order for either chamber conduct business. According to Article One of the United States Constitution, the Senate and the House each must have a quorum of a simple majority of respective members.

Ranking Minority Member

The ranking minority member is the senior member in a congressional committee or subcommittee that is part of the minority party, i.e., the political party that currently has a minority in Congress. The ranking minority member (at times referred to as “ranking member” for short), along with the chairman of a committee or subcommittee, is a key decision maker and has great influence. He or she takes the lead for his party’s committee business and is usually the longest-serving member of his party on the committee.


A recess can refer either to a break of more than four days in the regular session schedule (such as “Easter recess”) or to an official pause of any length of time in a committee hearing or floor session that delays the proceedings but does not adjourn the meeting.


A resolution refers to a measure that does not become a law. This is used to differentiate these measures from bills (which also technically begin as resolutions but can subsequently be passed, becoming acts). The chambers of Congress often use resolutions to express their approval or disapproval of something which they cannot vote upon due to its being out of their jurisdiction. For instance, a resolution might support a nation’s troops in battle, carrying no legal weight, but adopted for the purpose of demonstrating moral support. Specific types of resolutions are concurrent resolutions, joint resolutions, and simple resolutions.


A report accompanies a bill that a committee sends to its full chamber (either the House or the Senate). This written document describes the measure’s purposes and provisions, while explaining to members of a chamber exactly why this version has been reported and should pass. It reflects the views of the majority of the committee, but may also include minority, supplemental, or additional view of committee members. It usually estimates the legislation’s cost should it become a law, describes the bill’s impact on existing laws and programs, and explains the purpose and scope of the bill. The report is used by officials of the executive and judicial branches of government to better understand the legislative history of a law and Congress’ intent in enacting this bill. Committee reports are considered by some to be the most valuable single element of the legislative history of law


Revenue refers to the amount of money that the government takes in from taxes, customs duties, and other fees. According to the CRS Report for Congress, “A Brief Introduction to the Federal Budget Process,” about half of the money taken in comes from individual and corporate income taxes, though social insurance taxes are becoming more prominent. The rest of the funds come from other sources, including customs fees and gifts.

Senate and Senators

The Senate is one of the two chambers, along with the House of Representatives, that comprises Congress and has the power to make laws as part of the Legislative Branch of the United States Government. More specifically, the responsibilities of the Senate include the following: to confirm or reject treaties; to confirm or reject presidential appointments to office (including the Cabinet, other officials of the executive branch, federal judges, and ambassadors); and to try a government official who commits a crime against the United States.

Senators are members of the Senate. There are 100 senators, 2 from each state, who are formally controlled by the vice president but on a day-to-day basis by the president pro tempore (typically the most senior member of the majority party in the Senate, who is elected by his/her fellow senators). Senators are elected for 6 year terms, so that one-third of the senators are elected or re-elected each year.

Sign-On Letter

A congressional sign-on letter is exactly what its name implies — a letter that will be passed among members of Congress for signatures in order to build support for a program, a specific funding level, or language to be included in a bill. Often, these sign-on letters are sent to the chairman or ranking minority member of a subcommittee on appropriations, the full Committee on Appropriations, or the Budget Committee. RESULTS uses sign-on letters as a way to build greater support for our issues among congressman.


A subcommittee is a subgroup of either a standing or select committee that is comprised of members from both political parties, organized to address a specific topic within the committee. The House Committee on Appropriations, for instance, includes 12 subcommittees, each of whom oversees funding (appropriations) for a specific issue such as defense.

Two subcommittees of great relevance to RESULTS’ work are the Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies and the Subcommittees on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.


A surplus occurs when the government takes in more money (from taxes and other sources) than it spends.

To “Table” a Measure

To “table” a measure refers the action of laying aside a proposition, resolution, etc. for future discussion, generally with a view to postponing or shelving the matter indefinitely.


Whips are elected by their party conferences as assistants to the majority and minority leaders. There is both a majority whip (a member of the political party that currently holds the majority in each chamber of Congress) and a minority whip (a member of the political party that currently holds the minority in each chamber of Congress). Whips are responsible for mobilizing votes within their parties on major issues, and they often serve as acting floor leaders when a party floor leader is absent.

“Wish List” Letters

“Wish list” letters are submitted by members of the Committee on Appropriations, as a special, early opportunity for appropriators to weigh in on their priorities with the key decision makers (the chairman and the ranking member of the committee). Because these letters are given particular weight by the key decision makers, it is important at RESULTS that we make sure our issues are represented in as many of them as possible.

The due dates for these “wish lists” generally range from between March and May.

Sources for these definitions: U.S. Senate Glossary, C-SPAN Congressional Glossary,, the glossary, CNN All Politics: Balancing the Budget Key Terms

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