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Glossary

Please note:The definitions provided in this glossary relate to the words as they are used on Ben's Guide. There may be other definitions for these words.

Act: Legislation that has passed both Houses of Congress and has been either approved by the President, or passed over his veto, thus becoming law. Also used technically for a bill that has been passed by one House of Congress.

Alien: A person residing under a government or in a country other than that of one's birth without being a citizen of that non-native country.

Amendment: A proposal by a Member (in committee or floor session of the respective Chamber) to alter the language or provisions of a bill or act. It is voted on in the same manner as a bill. The Constitution of the United States, as provided in Article 5, may be amended when two thirds of each house of Congress approves a proposed amendment and three fourths of the states thereafter ratify it.

Anti-Federalists: Opponents to the adoption of the federal Constitution. Leading Anti-Federalists included George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, Patrick Henry, and George Clinton.

Autonomy: Independence or freedom; the right of self-government.

Bill: Formally introduced legislation. Most legislative proposals are in the form of bills and are designated as H.R. (House of Representatives) or S. (Senate), depending on the House in which they originate, and are numbered consecutively in the order in which they are introduced during each Congress. Public bills deal with general questions and become Public Laws, or Acts, if approved by Congress and signed by the President. Private bills deal with individual matters such as claims against the Federal Government, immigration and naturalization cases, land titles, et cetera, and become private laws if approved and signed.

Bicameral: The characteristic of having two branches, chambers, or houses, such as the United States Congress which is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Bill of Rights: The first ten amendments to the United States Constitution.

Calendar: A list of bills, resolutions, or other matters to be considered before committees or on the floor of either House of Congress.

Centralized Government: A form of government in which the national government maintains the power.

Checks and Balances: A system of limits imposed by the Constitution of the United States on all branches of a government by vesting in each branch the right to amend or void those acts of another that fall within its jurisdiction.

Citizen: A native or naturalized member of a state or nation who owes allegiance to its government and is entitled to its protection.

Cohesive: The state of uniting or sticking together.

Commerce: The traffic in goods, usually thought of as trade between states or nations.

Concurrent Powers: Duties shared by both the national government and state governments, such as collecting taxes, building roads, and making/enforcing laws.

Confirmation: Action by the Senate approving Presidential nominees for the executive branch, regulatory commissions, and certain other positions.

Decennial: Occurring every ten years.

Delegate: A person designated to act for or represent another or others; a deputy; representative, as in a political convention.

Democratic: Characterized by the principle of political or social equality for all.

Dual Federalism: A system of government where the states governed the people directly and the national government concerned itself with issues relating to foreign affairs.

Elastic Clause: A statement in the U.S. Constitution granting Congress the power to pass all laws necessary and proper for carrying out the list of powers it was granted.

Enrolled Bill: Legislation that has been passed by both houses of Congress, signed by their presiding officers, and sent to the President for signature.

Federal: A union of groups or states in which each member agrees to give up some of its governmental power in certain specified areas to a central authority.

Federalism: A union of states in which sovereignty is divided between a central authority and the member state authorities.

Federalists: A group of people who supported the adoption of the Constitution. Leading Federalists included Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.

Fiscal Year: A twelve month accounting period used by the Federal Government that goes from October 1st to September 30th. Currently, the Government is in FY07, which goes from October 1, 2006 to September 30, 2007.C

Gerrymandering: Drawing of district lines to maximize the electoral advantage of a political party or faction. The term was first used in 1812, when Elbridge Gerry was Governor of Massachusetts, to characterize the State redistricting plan.

Hearing: A meeting or session of a committee of Congress, usually open to the public, to obtain information and opinions on proposed legislation, conduct an investigation, or oversee a program.

Hopper: A box into which a proposed legislative bill is dropped and thereby officially introduced.

Immigrant: A person who migrates to another country, usually for permanent residence.

Impeachment: A formal accusation issued by a legislature against a public official charged with crime or other serious misconduct.

Independent: When a person or thing is not influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc.; thinking or acting for oneself.

Indirect popular election: Instead of voting for a specific candidate, voters select a panel of individuals pledged to vote for a specific candidate. This is in contrast to a popular election where votes are cast for an individual candidate. For example, in a general presidential election, voters select electors to represent their vote in the Electoral College, and not for an individual presidential candidate.

Initiative: A procedure by which a specified number of voters may propose a statute, constitutional amendment, or ordinance, and compel a popular vote on its adoption.

Judicial Review: The power of a court to judge the constitutionality of the laws of a government or the acts of a government official.

Law: A rule of conduct established and enforced by the authority, legislation, or custom of a given community, state, or nation.

Legislative Day: A formal meeting of a House of Congress which begins with the call to order and opening of business and ends with adjournment. A legislative day may cover a period of several calendar days, with the House recessing at the end of each calendar day, rather than adjourning.

Line-Item Veto: The power of the executive to disapprove of particular items of a bill without having to disapprove of the entire bill.

National: A person under the protection of a specific country. A citizen or subject.

Naturalization: The official act by which a person is made a national of a country other than his native one.

Pocket Veto: The disapproval of a bill brought about by an indirect rejection by the president. The president is granted ten days, Sundays excepted, to review a piece of legislation passed by Congress. Should he fail to sign a piece of legislation and Congress has adjourned within those ten days, the bill is automatically killed. The process of indirect rejection is known as a pocket veto.

Primary Election: An election held to decide which candidates will be on the November general election ballot.

Public Law: A bill or joint resolution (other than for amendments to the Constitution) passed by both Houses of Congress and approved by the President. Bills and joint resolutions vetoed by the President, but then overridden by the Congress also become public law.

Ratification: Two uses of this term are: (1) the act of approval of a proposed constitutional amendment by the legislatures of the States; (2) the Senate process of advice and consent to treaties negotiated by the President.

Reapportionment: The process by which seats in the House of Representatives are reassigned among the States to reflect population changes following the decennial census.

Redistricting: The process within the States of redrawing legislative district boundaries to reflect population changes following the decennial census.

Referendum: The submission of a law, proposed or already in effect, to a direct vote of the people.

Report: The printed record of a committee’s actions, including its votes, recommendations, and views on a bill or question of public policy or its findings and conclusions based on oversight inquiry, investigation, or other study.

Republic: A state or nation in which the supreme power rests in all the citizens entitled to vote. This power is exercised by representatives elected, directly or indirectly, by them and responsible to them.

Separation of Powers: The distribution of power and authority among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the government.

Sovereign: Above or superior to all others; chief; greatest; supreme dominion or power.

Tabling Motion: A motion to stop action on a pending proposal and to lay it aside indefinitely. When the Senate or House agrees to a tabling motion, the measure which has been tabled is effectively defeated.

Veto: The constitutional procedure 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 originating House without approval. It can be overridden only by a two-thirds vote in each House. A pocket veto occurs after Congress has adjourned and is unable to override the President’s action.


A service of the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Publishing Office.