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chapter 12 vocabulary terms


individuals who are already holding office; usually win in congressional elections.


work that includes the activities of members of Congress that help constituents as individuals; activities that cut through bureaucratic red tape to get people what they think that they have a right to get.

Pork barrel

mighty list of federal projects, grants, and contracts available to cities, businesses, colleges, and institutions in a congressional district.

Bicameral legislature

legislature divided into two houses; type of legislature that describes the US Congress and every American state's legislature (except for Nebraska's).

House Rules Committee

institution that is unique to the House of Representatives that reviews all bills (except revenue, budget, and appropriation bills) coming from a House committee before they go to the full house.


strategy that is unique to the Senate whereby opponents of a piece of legislation try to "talk it to death" based on the tradition of unlimited debate; can be halted by 60 present members.

Speaker of the House

office mandated by the Constitution; chosen by the majority party, has both formal and informal powers, and is second in line to succeed to the presidency should that office become vacant.

Majority leader

principal partisan ally of the Speaker of the House or the party's manager in the Senate; responsible for scheduling bills, influencing committee assignments, and rounding up votes on behalf of the party's legislative positions.


party leaders who work with the majority and minority leaders to count votes beforehand and lean on waverers whose votes are crucial to a bill favored by the party.

Minority leader

principal leader of the minority party in the House of Representatives or in the Senate.

Standing committees

separate subject-matter committees in each house of Congress that handle bills in different policy areas.

Joint committees

congressional committees on a few subject-matter areas with membership drawn from both houses.

Conference committees

congressional committees formed when the Senate and the House pass a particular bill in different forms; party leadership appoints members from each house to iron out the differences and bring back a single bill.

Select committees

congressional committees appointed for a specific purpose, such as the Watergate investigation.

Legislative oversight

Congress' monitoring of the bureaucracy and its administration of policy, mainly through hearings.

Committee chairs

most important influencers of the congressional agenda; play dominant roles in scheduling hearings, hiring staff, appointing subcommittees, and managing committee bills when they are brought before the full house.

Seniority system

simple rule for picking committee chairs that was in effect until the 1970s; rule that states that the member who had served on the committee the longest and whose party controlled Congress becomes chair, regardless of party loyalty, mental state, or competence.

Congressional caucus

group of members of Congress sharing some interest or characteristic; composed of members from both parties and from both houses.


proposed law drafted in precise, legal language; can be drafted by anyone but can only be formally submitted for consideration by a member of the Senate or the House of Representatives.

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