December 06, 2006


By Senator Mike Crapo

A quick look through any article about Congress may wind up confusing many people because of the jargon used. For example, here are a couple of quotes describing legislative activity from a recent congressional news magazine: â??â?¦a clean stop-gap measure.â?? â??â?¦to prevent it from becoming an earmark-laden omnibus spending package.â??Legislative vernacular includes words and phrases like recess, earmark, continuing resolution, cloture and others. Like many organizations, government has developed jargon particular to its activities. Some words have meaning outside of that environment; others have been part of legislative language since the birth of our government. Deciphering legislative language can be challenging. Understanding common terms can erase mystery surrounding the business of government. â?¢ Introduce/drop a bill: Action a Member of Congress takes to present legislation to a House of Congress. At this time, the bill is given a number (in the Senate, it start with S followed by numbers), then referred to the appropriate committee for consideration. Approximately 10,000 measures are introduced each Congress; only a small percentage actually pass.â?¢ Sponsor/Co-sponsor/Original Co-sponsor: Member or members who create a bill are its sponsors. Prior to the bill being introduced, members who agree to sign onto the bill are called original co-sponsors. Once a bill has been introduced, but before it is voted on and passed, Members who agree to sign on to a bill are called co-sponsors.â?¢ Referred to Committee: Once a bill is introduced, it is referred to the committee with jurisdiction over all or part of the billâ??s subject matter. The committee decides if a bill will be debated and voted on and sent to the full Senate for consideration. If the committee doesnâ??t pass or discharge the bill, it â??dies in committee.â??â?¢ Earmark: Item in an appropriations bill that instructs an agency how to spend money that is otherwise spent at the discretion of that agency. Earmarks can help ensure that projects particular to a certain state are identified and funded. â?¢ Filibuster: From the Dutch word for â??pirate,â?? filibuster describes efforts by Members to prevent a vote. It was based on a Memberâ??s right to speak as long as necessary on a given issue. In 1917, the Senate passed â??Rule 22,â?? allowing for debate to be ended with agreement of two-thirds of the body. This is called â??cloture.â?? The cloture threshold has since been lowered to three-fifths. â?¢ Authorizations: Legislation that set the amounts of money that the federal government is able to provide to each agency for operations for a set period of time. Authorizing legislation does not provide the funds; it only sets the amounts. â?¢ Appropriations: Legislation that grants each federal agency the permission to spend a prescribed amount of money on operations for a predetermined period of time. Appropriations legislation provides the funds, which have to be authorized before an agency or program can use the money.â?¢ Continuing resolution: A bill that funds the government at current appropriations levels until Congress can pass spending (appropriations) bills under consideration.â?¢ Recess: By definition a â??temporary cessation of the customary activities of an engagement, occupation or pursuit,â?? a Congressional recess is sometimes portrayed inaccurately as â??a vacation.â?? During recess, members usually spend their time in their home states for meetings and other events there. While Members do periodically take personal time during recess, it is not correct to claim every recess is a vacation break. Often, a memberâ??s schedule is as busy during recess as when Congress is in session. A more accurate term is â??state work period.â?? The language of legislation includes many words and phrases; understanding a few basic terms helps to better understand the process. Understanding leads to more effective and enthusiastic participation in our democracy. WORD COUNT: 619