Policy Glossary

Act – A bill that has been formalized into law after being enacted by Congress.

Adjournment – Any period of time when Congress is not in session (in contrast to a recess which signifies a break). The word may also refer to a hearing or conference being ended after the business at hand has been finished.

Amendment – A change to a law or proposed bill. Amendments also may be made to the Constitution.

Appropriations – A term associated with government decisions on spending, referring to money set aside for a particular purpose. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees approve the funding and budgets for various agencies, and laws.

Bill – A proposed piece of legislation in undergoing deliberation in Congress.

Budget – Each year the Federal Government must pass laws providing the funding for the various Federal agencies and departments.

Cannon Building – House of Representatives office building completed in 1908 and is the oldest congressional office building. It is located south of the Capitol, on Independence Avenue SE, between New Jersey Avenue SE and First Street SE.

Cloture – A motion designed to put a time limit on bill consideration or debate. The Senate often invokes cloture in order to stop filibusters. The process begins with at least Senators signing a petition, which leads to a vote on the matter. A 3/5 vote of the full Senate is required to limit further consideration of an issue to 30 additional hours.

Committee – A sub-group of the Senate or the House of Representatives that handles any bills, resolutions, or other issues associated with its area of jurisdiction. A bill must be agreed upon or amended by a committee before it can be passed by the Senate/House of Representatives as a whole. The House and Senate both have 20 standing committees that are permanent through each session of Congress, as well as a small number of less permanent select and joint committees.

Congress – The Legislative branch of the Federal Government. It consists of two bodies or chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Congressional Hearing – A meeting held by a House or Senate Committee or Subcommittee intended to collect information from the testimony of witnesses related to the issues being discussed. A hearing may be held to look into the issues behind a potential law or policy, to investigate a current law or activity, or to confirm presidential nominations. Witnesses may be experts in the private field or government authorities, such as the head of a department or agency. Witnesses give an opening statement before being questioned by members of Congress. The majority of hearings are open to the public, but may be closed due to reasons such as national security.

Dirksen Building – Senate office building named for Minority Leader Everett Dirksen from Illinois in 1972. It was erected in 1958 and is located on the corner of Constitution Avenue and First Street, SE.

Engrossment – the reprinting of a bill in its final form that will be voted on.

Filibuster – The act of speaking for an extended period of time in order to obstruct debate or a vote. The practice was banned in the House of Representatives, but Senators may still talk for as long as they like unless 3/5 of the Senate votes to invoke cloture in order to bring the debate to a close.

Fiscal Year – The time period used by the Government for budget and accounting, often represented by the abbreviation “FY” (for example FY2011). The U.S. Federal Government’s Fiscal Year starts on October 1st and ends on September 31st.

Ford Office Building – House of Representatives office building named after President and House Minority Leader Gerald Ford. The building formerly was occupied by the FBI before being transferred to offices for committee staff in the 1970s. The building lies between D Street SW, 2nd Avenue NW, and Virginia Avenue SW.

Hart Office Building – Senate office building named for Michigan Senator, Philip A. Hart. The building opened up in 1982 and is located on 2nd Street NE, between C Street NE and Constitution Avenue NE.

House of Representatives – A house of our bicameral Congress, consisting of 435 representatives elected by their local districts, often referred to simply as the “House.” Each state receives a number of representatives corresponding to their population as noted by the Census. The Speaker of the House is the body’s presiding officer. The Constitution states that “All bills for raising revenue” must originate in the House. The House also has the power to impeach officials, though the Senate tries them.

Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force – Established on June 12, 2009 by President Obama to develop a national ocean policy protects, maintains, and restores our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes. The Task Force also was charged with designing a framework for effective Marine Spatial Planning.

Law – An act of Congress signed by the President (or passed over his veto by Congress). Public laws apply nationwide whereas private laws have restrictive applicability.

Longworth Building – Office building used by members of the House of Representatives, named in 1962 in honor of the former Speaker of the House, Nicholas Longworth of Ohio. The building was finished in 1933 and is located off of Independence Avenue SE, between South Capitol Street SE and New Jersey Avenue SE.

Majority – the political party that holds more seats, or can form a coalition of more seats, in the respective body of Congress.

Minority – the political party that holds less seats in the body of Congress.

Marine Spatial Planning – “A public process of analyzing and allocating the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic, and social objectives that are usually specified through a political process” (Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission).

President’s Budget – The President’s recommendations to Congress for the Federal Government’s funding levels for the upcoming Fiscal Year.

Rayburn Building – House of Representatives office building named after former Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn was completed in 1965. The building is located off of Independence Avenue SW between First Street SW and South Capitol Street SE.

Recess – A period of time where Congress has taken a break from being in session. Congress often meets only on Tuesday-Thursday so that the recess the rest of the week to meet with constituents. “Recess” also may be used during a hearing when committee members pause business at hand to go vote.

Resolution – a written motion adopted by Congress.

Russell Building – A Senate office building named for Senator Richard Brevard Russell, Jr. of Georgia in 1972. The building is the oldest Senate office building, opening in 1909. It is located off of Constitution Avenue SE between Delaware Avenue NE and 1st Street NE.

Senate – A house of bicameral Congress consisting of two senators from each state, regardless of each state’s population. Each Senator serves a six year term. In addition to its normal legislative responsibilities, the Senate also has the powers of confirming Presidential nominees, ratifying treaties with foreign governments, and trying persons impeached by the House.

Subcommittee – A sub-group of a committee in the Senate or the House of Representatives that handles any bills, resolutions, or other issues associated with its particular sub-area of jurisdiction. For example, the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife is part of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Subpoena – while most individuals voluntarily testify before congressional committees, Congress can force individuals to testify under oath in order to obtain information.

Veto – the action of the President returning a bill that Congress has passed back to the house it originated in rather than signing it into law. This generally must be done with in 10 days, otherwise the bill becomes law. Congress can override the veto with a 2/3 majority of the House and the Senate.