Constituents – The residents of a congressional district or state.
Reapportionment – The assigning by Congress of congressional seats after each census. State legislatures reapportion state legislative districts.
Redistricting – The redrawing of congressional and other legislative district lines following the census, to accommodate population shifts and keep districts as equal as possible in population.
Gerrymandering – The drawing of legislative district boundaries to benefit a party, group, or incumbent.
Safe seat – An elected office that is predictably won by one party or the other, so the success of that party’s candidate is almost taken for granted.
Incumbent – The current holder of the elected office.
Bicameralism – The principle of a two-house legislature.
Enumerated powers – The powers expressly given to Congress in the Constitution.
Speaker – The presiding officer in the House of Representatives, formally elected by the House but actually selected by the majority party.
Party caucus – A meeting of the members of a party in a legislative chamber to select party leaders and to develop party policy. Called a conference by the Republicans.
Majority leader – The legislative leader selected by the majority party who helps plan party strategy, confers with other party leaders, and tries to keep members of the party in line.
Minority leader – the legislative leader selected by the minority party as spokesperson for the opposition.
Whip – Party leader who is the liaison between the leadership and the rank-and-file in the legislature.
Closed rule – A procedural rule in the House of Representatives that prohibits any amendments to bills or provides that only members of the committee reporting the bill may offer amendments.
Open rule – A procedural rule in the House of Representatives that permits floor amendments within the overall time allocated to the bill.
President pro tempore – Officer of the Senate selected by the majority party to act as chair in the absence of the vice president.
Hold – A procedural practice in the Senate whereby a senator temporarily blocks the consideration of the bill or nomination.
Filibuster – A procedural practice in the Senate whereby a senator refuses to relinquish the floor and thereby delays proceedings and prevents a vote on a controversial issue.
Cloture – A procedure for terminating debate, especially filibusters, in the Senate.
Senatorial courtesy – Presidential custom of submitting the names of prospective appointees for approval to senators from the states in which the appointees are to work.
Standing committee – A permanent committee established in a legislature, usually focusing on a policy area.
Special or select committee – A congressional committee created for a specific purpose, sometimes to conduct an investigation.
Joint committee – A committee composed of members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate; such committees oversee the Library of Congress and conduct investigations.
Earmarks – Special spending projects that are set aside on behalf of individual members of Congress for their constituents.
Seniority rule – A legislative practice that assigns the chair of the committee or subcommittee to the member of the majority party with the longest continuous service on the committee.
Conference committee – Committee appointed by the presiding officers of each chamber to adjust differences on a particular bill passed by each in different form.
Delegate – An official who is expected to represent the views of his or her constituents even when personally holding different views; one interpretation of the role of legislator.
Trustee – An official who is expected to vote independently based on his or her judgment of the circumstances; one interpretation of the role of the legislator.
Logrolling – Mutual aid and vote trading among legislators.
Attentive public – Those citizens who follow public affairs closely.
Discharge petition – Petition that, if signed by majority of the House of Representatives’ members, will pry a bill from committee and bring it to the floor for consideration.
Rider – A provision attached to a bill – to which it may or may not be related – in order to secure its passage or defeat.
Pocket veto – A veto exercised by the president after Congress has adjourned; if the president takes no action for 10 days, the bill does not become law and does not return to Congress for possible override.
Override – An action taken by Congress to reverse the presidential veto, requiring a two-thirds majority in each chamber.
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