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general vocab.


a national legislature composed of elected representatives who do not choose the chief executive (typically, a president),


a national legislature composed of elected representatives who choose the chief executive (typically, the prime minister).

Franking privilege

the ability of members of Congress to mail letters to their constituents free of charge by substituting their facsimile signature (frank) for postage.

Bicameral legislature

a lawmaking body made up of two chambers or parts. The U.S. Congress is a bicameral legislature composed of a Senate and a House of Representatives.

Runoff primary

a second primary election held in some states when no candidate receives a majority of the votes in the first primary; the runoff is between the two candidates with the most votes. Runoff primaries are common in the South.

Majority leader (floor leader)

the legislative leader elected by party members holding the majority of seats in the House of Representatives or the Senate (alternate name).

Minority leader

the legislative leader elected by party members holding a minority of seats in the House of Representatives or the Senate.


a senator or representative who helps the party leader stay informed about what party members are thinking, rounds up members when important votes are to be taken, and attempts to keep a nose count on how the voting on controversial issues is likely to go.


the presiding officer of the House of Representatives and the leader of his party in the House.

Party vote

there are two measures of such voting. By the stricter measure, a party vote occurs when 90 percent or more of the Democrats in either house of Congress vote against 90 percent or more of the Republicans. A looser measure counts as a party vote any case where at least 50 percent of the Democrats vote together against at least 50 percent of the Republicans.

Caucus (congressional)

an association of members of Congress created to advocate a political ideology or a regional, ethnic, or economic interest (type)

Standing committees

permanently established legislative committees that consider and are responsible for legislation within certain subject areas. Examples are the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Select committees

Congressional committees appointed for a limited time and purpose

Joint committees

committees on which both representatives and senators serve. An especially important kind of joint committee is the conference committee made up of representatives and senators appointed to resolve differences in the Senate and House versions of the same piece of legislation before final passage.

Conference committees

Same as joint committees

Simple resolution

An expression of opinion either in the House of Representatives or the Senate to settle housekeeping or procedural matters in either body. Such expressions are not signed by the president and do not have the force of law.

Concurrent resolution

an expression of congressional opinion without the force of law that requires the approval of both the House and the Senate but not of the president. Used to settle housekeeping and procedural matters that affect both houses.

Joint resolution

a formal expression of congressional opinion that must be approved by both houses of Congress and by the president. Joint resolutions proposing a constitutional amendment need not be signed by the president.

Discharge petition

A device by which any member of the House, after a committee has had a bill for thirty days, may petition to have it brought to the floor. If a majority of the members agree, the bill is discharged from the committee. The discharge petition was designed to prevent a committee from killing a bill by holding it for too long.

Restrictive rule

an order from the House Rules Committee in the House of Representatives that sets a time limit on debate and forbids a particular bill from being amended on the legislative floor.

Open rule

an order from the House Rules Committee in the house of Representatives that permits a bill to be amended on the legislative floor.


An attempt to defeat a bill in the Senate by talking indefinitely, thus preventing the Senate from taking action on it. From the Spanish filibustero, which means a "Freebooter," a military adventurer.


Amendments on matters unrelated to a bill that are added to an important bill so that they will "ride" to passage through Congress. When a bill has lots of riders, it is called a Christmas-tree bill

Cloture resolution

A rule used by the Senate to end or limit debate. Designed to prevent "talking a bill to death" by filibuster. To pass in the Senate, three-fifths of the entire Senate membership (or sixty senators) must vote for it.

Double tracking

Setting aside a bill against which one or more senators are filibustering so that other legislation can be voted on.

Voice vote

A congressional voting procedure in which members shout "aye" in approval or "no" in disapproval; allows members to vote quickly or anonymously on bills

Division vote

A congressional voting procedure in which members stand and are counted.


A congressional voting procedure that consists of members answering "yea" or "nay" to their names. When roll calls were handled orally, it was a time-consuming process in the House. Since 1973 an electronic system permits each House member to record his or her vote and learn the total automatically


Literally, "I forbid." It refers to the power of a president to disapprove a bill; it may be overridden by a two-thirds vote of each house of Congress.

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