1. Harry S. Truman
  2. Educational Resources
  3. Three Branches of Government
  4. Dictionary of Government Terms

Dictionary of Government Terms

ACT-a measure which has become law after being passed by both houses of Congress and approved by the President, or passed by two-thirds vote over his veto.

ADJOURN-to end a meeting, usually for a stated time only.

  • Adjourn sine die (pronounced SIE-nee DIE-ee)--to stop a meeting without setting a date for reconvening.

AMENDMENT-an addition to a constitution (the United States Constitution or a state constitution); a change in any bill or document by adding, substituting, or omitting a certain part before its final passage.

APPROPRIATION-money set aside by a legislative body for some government expenditure.

BILL-a measure introduced in either house of Congress.

  • Public bill--a bill of broad general application.
  • Private bill--a bill for the benefit of one or a few individuals.

BIPARTISAN-approved by two political parties, or including representatives of two political parties--for example, the U.S. bipartisan foreign policy, supported by most Democrats and Republicans.

BUDGET-the document sent to Congress by the President in January of each year estimating government revenue and expenditures for the ensuing fiscal year and recommending appropriations in detail. The President's budget message forms the basis for congressional hearings and legislation on the year's appropriations.

CALENDAR-a legislative schedule; thus when a bill is reported from a committee of the House (or Senate), it is placed upon a "calendar." The House and Senate calendars are lists on which bills are recorded in numerical order.

CAUCUS-a meeting of party members in a legislative body to determine the party's stand on forthcoming issues.

CENSURE-a vote of condemnation or disapproval of the conduct of a member of Congress by either house. It carries with it no special punishment.

CONFIRMATION-approval by the Senate of appointments made by the President.

ELECTION-the process of choosing government officials by vote of the citizens.

  • Primary election--an election within a party to select its candidates for public office.
  • Off-year-election--a local (not federal) election.
  • Special or by-election--an election to fill an office vacated because of death or resignation.

FILIBUSTER-prolonged talking by a senator or senators for the purpose of delay, in the hope of forcing the majority to give up the proposal being debated.

FISCAL YEAR-a 12-month period at the end of which accounts are reckoned. Congress appropriates funds on the basis our our government's fiscal year, which begins July 1 and ends on June 30. Fiscal year 1960, for example, began July 1, 1959.

FLOOR-a term referring to the full Senate or the full House. For example, "the bill is on the floor of the House" means that the bill is up for consideration by the House.

HEARING-a session of a congressional committee at which supporters and opponents of a proposed measure are given an opportunity to express their views.

  • Closed hearing--a hearing barred to the public and the press.

IMPEACHMENT-accusations against a civil official of misconduct while in office, used as grounds for removal of that official from office. Impeachment should not be confused with the trial itself. In Congress, impeachment proceedings take place in the House of Representatives. The trial on the charges is held in the Senate.

LAW-an Act of Congress which has been signed by the President or passed over his veto by the Congress. Laws are listed numerically by Congress; for example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (HR 7152) became Public Law 88-352 during the 88th Congress.

LOBBY-a group or person (lobbyist) seeking to influence legislators for the passage or defeat of legislation.

MAJORITY-more than half, or the group that controls a vote of that size.

  • Absolute majority--more than half the entire membership of a voting body.
  • Simple majority--more than half the members present and voting at the moment.

MINORITY-less than half, or the group which controls only a minor fraction of the total vote in Congress.

MOTION-a proposal on procedure or action presented to a legislative body.

OVERRIDE-to set aside or annul, as to override a veto by the President (which requires a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress).

RATIFICATION-the act of approving an appointment or a treaty. The U.S. Constitution provides that all treaties must be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate; only a simple majority vote is required to approve the appointment of a public official by the President.

RIDER-an unrelated controversial measure attached to a congressional bill in order to compel the President to accept the bill with its rider or do without the bill. (The President cannot veto part of a bill.)

VETO-action by the President refusing to approve a bill passed by Congress.

  • Pocket veto--the process by which the President prevents a bill passed by Congress at the end of a session from becoming a law. Ordinarily, a bill unsigned by the President becomes law ten days after it has been passed by Congress--if Congress is still in session. However, if Congress adjourns before the ten days are up, the bill dies unless the President signs it. Thus, he "puts it in his pocket" to veto it.