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Abridged Dictionary of Parliamentary Terms
Jan 16, 2010

Adjournment to a Day Certain - Adjournment under a motion or resolution that fixes the next time of meeting. Under the Constitution, both Houses must agree to a concurrent resolution for either House to adjourn for more than three days. A session of Congress is not ended by adjournment to a day certain.

Adjournment Sine Die - Adjournment without definitely fixing a day for reconvening; literally "adjournment without a day." Usually used to connote the final adjournment of a session of Congress. A session can continue until noon, January 3, of the following year, when, under the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, it automatically terminates.

Amendments (Types of) - A proposal of a Member of Congress to alter the text of a bill or another amendment. An amendment usually is voted on in the same manner as a bill.

Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute - An amendment which seeks to replace the entire text of an underlying bill. The adoption of such an amendment precludes any further amendment to that bill under the regular process. (See also: Substitute Amendment)

Pro Forma Amendment - A motion whereby a Member secures five minutes to speak on an amendment under debate in the Committee of the Whole. The Member gains recognition from the chair by moving to "strike the last word." The motion requires no vote, does not change the amendment under debate, and is deemed automatically withdrawn at the expiration of the five minutes of debate.

Substitute Amendment - An amendment which replaces the entire text of a pending amendment. (Also see "Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute").

Bills Introduced - In both the House and Senate, any number of Members may join in introducing a single bill or resolution. The first Member listed is the sponsor of the bill, and all Members' names following the sponsor's are the bill's cosponsors. When introduced, a bill is referred to the committee or committees that have jurisdiction over the subject with which the bill is concerned. Under the standing rules of the House and Senate, bills are referred by the Speaker in the House and by the presiding officer in the Senate. In practice, the House and Senate parliamentarians act for these officials and refer the vast majority of bills.

Budget Authority - Authority provided by law to enter into obligations that normally result in the outlay of funds. The main forms of budget authority are appropriations, borrowing authority, and contract authority. Budget authority may be classified by the period of availability (one year, multiyear, or no year), by the timing of congressional action (current or permanent), or by the specificity of the amount available.

Budget Outlay - 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.

Budget Resolution - A concurrent resolution which outlines in broad parameters the levels of spending and revenues for the next fiscal year. The resolution, which is not signed by the President, contains allocations of spending authority for House and Senate committees which serve as constraints on their consideration of legislation. The Appropriations Committee gets an allocation for discretionary spending.

Calendar - An agenda or list of business awaiting possible action by the House or Senate. The House has five calendars (the Union Calendar, the House Calendar, the Private Calendar, the Corrections Calendar, and the Calendar of Motions to Discharge Committees).

Clerk of the House - The chief administrative and budgetary officer of the House of Representatives. The Clerk is responsible for the official House Journal and House Calendar, for recording and certifying votes on final passage, the House payroll, office supplies and furniture, repairs, etc.

Committee - A panel of members elected or appointed to perform some service or function for its parent body. Congress has four types of committees: standing, special or select, joint, and, in the House, a Committee of the Whole. Except for the Committee of the Whole, committees conduct investigations, make studies, issue reports and recommendations, and, in the case of standing committees, review and prepare measures on their assigned subjects for action by their respective houses. Most committees divide their work among several subcommittees or, in some cases, task forces, but only the full committee may submit reports or measures to its house or to Congress. With rare exceptions, the majority party in a house holds a majority of the seats on its committees, and their chairmen are also from that party.

Committee Allocation - The distribution, pursuant to section 302 of the Congressional Budget Act, of new budget authority and outlays to House and Senate committees. The allocation, which may not exceed the relevant amounts in the budget resolution, usually is made in the joint explanatory statement that accompanies the conference report on the budget resolution.

Committee of the Whole - A committee composed of all House Members created to expedite the consideration of bills, other measures and amendments on the floor of the House. In the Committee of the Whole, a quorum is 100 Members (as compared to 218 in the House) and debate on amendments is conducted under the five-minute rule (as compared to the hour rule in the House), following general debate. In addition, certain motions allowed in the House are prohibited in the Committee of the Whole including, but not limited to, motions for the previous question, to table, to adjourn, to reconsider a vote, and to refer or recommit.

Expedited Procedures - Procedures which provide a special process for the accelerated Congressional consideration of legislation. This accelerated process usually includes consideration in committee and on the Floor of the House and Senate. Furthermore, these procedures often involve a departure from the regular order of the House. Expedited procedures are provided by law, as opposed to by a special rule.

Five Minute Rule - (1) A debate-limiting rule of the House used when the House sits as the Committee of the Whole. (2) A Member offering an amendment is allowed to speak for five minutes in support of each amendment and an opponent is allowed to speak for five minutes in opposition. (3) Other Members may rise to "strike the last word" and receive five minutes to speak in favor or opposition. (4) Additional time for speaking can be obtained through a unanimous consent request.

Germaneness - A rule requiring that debate and amendments pertain to the same subject as the matter under consideration. Questions of germaneness both in committee and on the House floor are determined by the Chair and/or the Speaker subject to appeal to the House or the Committee .

Lay on the Table - A motion to "lay on the table" is not debatable and is usually a method of making a final, adverse determination of a matter.

Legislative History - The documents that accompanied a bill throughout the legislative process comprise its legislative history. These include the committee report, the conference committee report and the statement of managers (if applicable), and the text of the floor debate in both chambers. Legislative history is used by federal agencies to clarify vague provisions in the laws they are required to implement.

Marking Up a Bill - The process by which a committee or subcommittee moves through the contents of a measure, debating and voting on amendments to its provisions by revising, adding or subtracting language prior to ordering the measure reported.

Motion to Recommit - A motion made on the floor after the engrossment and third reading of a bill or resolution, but prior to the Chair’s putting the question on final passage. Preference is given to a Member who is opposed to the bill, and is reserved by tradition to the Minority party. The Speaker usually gives priority recognition to the bill’s Minority floor manager. The motion to recommit may be without instructions (which is non-debatable and has the effect of killing the bill), or with instructions (subject to 10 minutes or sometimes an hour of debate split between a proponent and opponent, and usually directs the reporting committee to amend “forewith” (immediately) or rewrite the bill in a specified way). The motion to recommit may apply to conference reports where the House acts first.

Office of the Parliamentarian - An office managed, supervised and administered by a non-partisan Parliamentarian appointed by the Speaker. This office is responsible for advising the presiding officer, members and staff on the rules and procedures of the House as well as for compiling and preparing the precedents of the House. All consultation with this office is confidential (if requested).

Official Reporters - Official Reporters are responsible for collecting material for printing in the Congressional Record. These Clerks sit in the center of the first tier of the rostrum on the House Floor. All submissions for the Record, for example, extensions of remarks, corrections to Member's floor statements, and extraneous material, are given to the Official Reporters.

Point of Order - An objection that the pending proposal (bill, amendment, motion, etc.) is in violation of a rule of the House. The validity of points of order is determined by the presiding officer, and if held valid the offending bill, amendment or provision is ineligible for consideration. Points of order may be waived by special rules.

Privilege - A status relating to the rights of the House and its members and the priority of motions and actions on the floor of the House. "Privileged questions" relate to the order of legislative business while "questions of privilege" relate to matters affecting the safety, dignity or integrity of the House, or the rights, reputation or conduct of a member acting as a representative.

Privileged Matters - House rules give certain House committees a "green light" to bring certain categories of legislation to the House floor for immediate debate. The Speaker must recognize any Chairman for the purpose of calling up a privileged matter reported from his committee. Examples of privileged matter include special rules from the Rules Committee, conference reports from any conference committee, congressional budget resolutions from the Budget Committee, censure or expulsion resolutions from the Ethics Committee, and general appropriations bills from the Appropriations Committee.

Previous Question - A motion offered to end debate and preclude further amendments from being offered. In effect it asks, “are we ready to vote on the issue before us?” If the previous question is ordered in the House, all debate ends and usually the House immediately votes on the pending bill or amendment. If the previous question is defeated, control of debate shifts to the leading opposition member (usually the Minority floor manager) who then manages an hour of debate and may offer a germane amendment to the pending business. The effect of defeating the previous question is to turn over control of the floor to the Minority or opposition. Even though the Minority may try to depict an effort to defeat the previous question as a substantive vote, it is always a procedural action.

Quorum - The number of Members whose presence is required to conduct business. A quorum in the House is a majority of the Members (218). A quorum in the Committee of the Whole is 100 Members. A quorum is presumed to be present until its absence is demonstrated. Under certain circumstances, a point of order can be made that a quorum is not present, at which time the Speaker (or Chair) counts for a quorum. If a quorum is not present, Members may be summoned to the floor. If a quorum fails to respond to the call, the only business in order is a motion to adjourn or a motion to direct the Sergeant-at-Arms to request the attendance of absentees.

Ramseyer Rule - A House rule requiring that committee reports contain a comparative print showing, through typographical devices such as italic print, the changes in existing law made by the proposed committee language (the "Cordon Rule" is a parallel rule of the Senate).

Reading for Amendment - In the Committee of the Whole, after a clerk has read or designated a section or paragraph of a measure, it is the House practice to complete action on all amendments to that section or paragraph before moving on to the next section or paragraph. A full reading of a section's text is often waived by unanimous consent or by a special rule from the Rules Committee, in which case the clerk reads only the section’s number or designates the paragraph. Sometimes, by unanimous consent or special rule, a measure is read or designated by title rather than by section or paragraph.

Recognition- Permission by the presiding officer for a Member to speak or propose a procedural action. A Member seeking recognition must rise and address the chair, but may not do so while another Member holds the floor unless that Member has violated a rule. Generally, recognition in the House is within the chair's discretion. Under some circumstances, the chair's discretion is absolute; under others, the chair may be required to recognize a Member eventually but not necessarily the first time the Member seeks recognition. Under still other circumstances, the chair is required to recognize certain Members for specific purposes. However, the Speaker must recognize Members for privileged business and motions, but when several Members seek recognition on business of equal privilege, the Speaker has discretion in deciding whom to recognize first. By tradition and practice, both the Speaker and the Chairman of the Committee of the Whole follow certain priorities of recognition during debate. In both houses, the chair's recognition authority is not subject to appeal.

Reconsideration - A motion to reconsider the vote by which an action was taken has, until it is disposed of, the effect of putting the action in abeyance. In essence, it is a motion to vote again on that which was just agreed to.

Re-Referral - The assignment of a measure to a committee different from the committee to which the measure was initially referred. Usually used to correct erroneous initial referrals.

Rules (Types of) - There are two specific types of rules.

Standing Rules - These are the standing rules governing the normal order of business in the House or in a committee. These rules are adopted by the full House and by each committee at the beginning of each Congress. These rules generally govern such matters as the duties of officers, the code of conduct, the order of business, admission to the floor, parliamentary procedures on handling amendments and voting, and jurisdictions of committees.

Special Rules - (1) Special rules involve a departure from the standing rules of the House for the consideration of a specific bill. (2) They are usually resolutions reported by the Rules Committee which govern the handling of a particular bill on the House floor.

Standing Committees - These permanent House panels are identified in House Rule X, which also lists the jurisdiction of each committee. Because they have legislative jurisdiction, standing committees consider bills and issues and recommend measures for consideration by the full House. They also have oversight responsibility to monitor agencies, programs, and activities within their jurisdictions, and, in some cases, in areas that cut across committee jurisdictions.

Suspension - A time-saving method used to consider legislation. By suspending the rules and passing the measure, this procedure has the effect of preventing any points of order from being raised against a measure for violation of a rule. Under this procedure, the bill is unamendable (except the motion to suspend the rules may propose to pass a measure in amended form) and debate on the motion and the measure is limited to forty minutes equally divided between a proponent and an opponent. A favorable vote of two-thirds, a quorum being present, is necessary for passage. This procedure is in order every Monday and Tuesday and is intended to be reserved for relatively noncontroversial bills. Suspensions are considered only in the House, not in the Committee of theWhole. The rules of the House Republican Conference prohibit the consideration of a bill under suspension which costs more than $100 million. This requirement can be waived by the Republican Leadership.

Unanimous Consent - A method used to expedite consideration of non-controversial measures on the House floor. Proceedings of the House or actions on legislation often take place by unanimous consent of the House (i.e., without objection), whether or not a rule of the House is being violated.

Unanimous Consent Agreements - Agreements negotiated among Senators by the Majority and Minority Leaders to limit debate on a specified measure, to restrict amendments to it, and to waive points of order. Requires the consent of every Senator and may be denied by a single objection. These agreements, also called "time agreements," are the Senate parallel to "special rules" from the House Rules Committee.

Yielding - Once a member has been recognized by the Speaker (or Chair) to speak, he controls the floor; in general, no other member may speak without being granted permission to do so by the member recognized. Another member who wishes to speak will ask the recognized member to yield by saying, "Will the gentleman yield to me?"




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