Posts tagged ‘congressional glossary’

Optics (

From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms


A “term of art for how a bit of news will be perceived by the public at large, which is only used by people who bill by the hour.”
Troy Senik

“The branch of physics which involves the behavior and properties of light, including its interactions with matter and the construction of instruments that use or detect it.”

“The viewing lens of public perception. How the media will play a story. Political repercussions are all about optics. Bad optics would be giving the media or the political opposition a juicy story to play with.”
Urban Dictionary

How did optics achieve buzzword status in American politics? In his final On Language column last September, William Safire noted the trend: “‘Optics’ is hot, rivaling content.” When politicians fret about the public perception of a decision more than the substance of the decision itself, we’re living in a world of optics. Of course, elected officials have worried about outward appearances since time immemorial, but optics puts a new spin on things, giving a scientific-sounding gloss to P.R. and image-making.

Though the metaphorical expansion of optics into the political arena feels novel, it has actually been brewing for a few decades. On May 31, 1978, The Wall Street Journal quoted Jimmy Carter’s special counselor on inflation, Robert Strauss, as saying that business leaders who went along with Carter’s anti-inflation measures might be invited to the White House as a token of appreciation. “It would be a nice optical step,” Strauss said. The Journal was not impressed by the idea: the following day, an editorial rebuffed Strauss’s overtures with the line “Optics will not cure inflation.”

Optics,” by Ben Zimer, The New York Times, March 4, 2010

“The optics of a Solyndra default will be bad,” the Office of Management and Budget staff member wrote Jan. 31 in an e-mail to a co-worker. “If Solyndra defaults down the road, the optics will be arguably worse later than they would be today. . . . In addition, the timing will likely coincide with the 2012 campaign season heating up.”

Obama administration e-mails: Giving more taxpayer money to Solyndra was risky,” by Carol D. Leonnig and Joe Stephens, The Washington Post, September 15, 2011

Also see Fiscal Illusion; The Shadow of Enlightenment: Optical and Political Transparency in France 1789-1848.




Legislative Drafter’s Deskbook: A Practical Guide

Congressional Deskbook: The Practical and Comprehensive Guide to Congress

Citizen’s Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates

The Federal Budget Process: A description of the federal and congressional budget processes, including timelines, from TheCapitol.Net

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Super PAC / Independent Expenditure-Only Committee (

From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms

Super PAC / Independent Expenditure-Only Committee

“Super PAC” is the colloquial term for “Independent Expenditure-Only Committee”.

Independent expenditures represent spending by individuals, groups, political committees, corporations or unions expressly advocating the election or defeat of clearly identified federal candidates. These expenditures may not be made in concert or cooperation with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, the candidate’s campaign or a political party.

An Independent Expenditure-Only Committee (i.e., “Super PAC”) is a registered (with the FEC) political committee that intends to make only independent expenditures. A Super PAC may not give direct contributions to any federally registered committees or candidates, with the exception of other Independent Expenditure-Only Committees. The Super PAC may solicit and accept unlimited contributions from individuals, political committees, corporations and labor organizations for the purpose of making independent expenditures.

In July 2010, in accordance with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in SpeechNow v. FEC, the FEC approved two advisory opinions concerning the application of the Act in regards to groups solely making independent expenditures.

In AO 2010-09 (Club for Growth) (22-page PDFPDF), The Commission concluded that a 501(c)(4) corporation can establish a political committee that will make only independent expenditures and may solicit unlimited contributions from individuals in the general public.

In AO 2010-11 (Commonsense Ten) (7-page PDFPDF), The Commission concluded that a registered nonconnected political committee that intends to make only independent expenditures may solicit and accept unlimited contributions from individuals, political committees, corporations and labor organizations for the purpose of making independent expenditures.

Any time up to 20 days before an election, if independent expenditures by a person or organization aggregate more than $10,000 in a race they must be reported to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) before the end of the second day following the communication’s publicly distribution. If the communications are distributed after the 20th day but more than 24 hours before the day of an election and they aggregate more than $1,000 in any race, the expenditures must be reported within one day.

When financing communications in connection with federal elections, it is important to understand that the rules differ significantly depending on whether the communication is coordinated with a candidate or party committee or is produced and distributed independently. In general, amounts spent for coordinated communications are limited, but independent expenditures are unlimited.

When an individual or political committee pays for a communication that is coordinated with a candidate or party committee, the communication is considered an in-kind contribution to that candidate or party committee and is subject to the limits, prohibitions and reporting requirements of the federal campaign finance law.

In general, a payment for a communication is “coordinated” if it is made in cooperation, consultation or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee or their agents, or a political party committee or its agents. 11 CFR 109.21. To be an “agent” of a candidate, candidate’s committee or political party committee for the purposes of determining whether a communication is coordinated, a person must have actual authorization, either express or implied, from a specific principal to engage in specific activities, and then engage in those activities on behalf of that specific principal. Such activities would also result in a coordinated communication if carried out directly by the candidate, authorized committee staff or a political party official. 11 CFR 109.3(a) and (b).

FEC regulations establish a three-prong test to determine whether a communication is coordinated. All three prongs of the test–payment, content and conduct–must be met for a communication to be deemed coordinated and thus an in-kind contribution.

Super PACs are a new kind of political action committee created in July 2010 following the outcome of a federal court case known as v. Federal Election Commission.

Technically known as independent expenditure-only committees, Super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates. Super PACs must, however, report their donors to the Federal Election Commission on a monthly or quarterly basis — the Super PAC’s choice — as a traditional PAC would. Unlike traditional PACs, Super PACs are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates.

Super PACs,

Also see the First Amendment; Political Action Committee / PAC / Leadership PAC; Lobbying and Advocacy.

More, from TheCapitol.Net

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Unemployment Rate / Employment-Population Ratio (

From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms

Unemployment Rate / Employment-Population Ratio

As defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of people who do not have jobs but have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks and are currently available for work, expressed as a percentage of the civilian labor force.

The rate of unemployment in the United States has exceeded 8 percent since February 2009, making the past three years the longest stretch of high unemployment in this country since the Great Depression. CBO projects that the unemployment rate will remain above 8 percent until 2014. The share of unemployed people who have been looking for work for more than six months–referred to as the long-term unemployed–topped 40 percent in December 2009 and has remained above that level ever since.

The United States is Experiencing the Longest Stretch of High Unemployment Since the Great Depression,” CBO, February 16, 2012

The simple way to think about unemployment numbers is that the joblessness rate can rise or fall for good reasons and bad reasons. If the unemployment rate drops because hundreds of thousands of jobs are being created each month, that’s obviously good news. But if the jobless rate falls because the government estimates that lots of people have become discouraged and dropped out of the labor force, then that’s not good news. In other words, sometimes the unemployment rate, by itself, doesn’t tell the full story. That’s why one of the best statistics to look at is the employment-population ratio, which measures the number of people who have jobs and compares it to the number of people who could have jobs.

New Unemployment Numbers Are Good News for the White House, but the Silver Cloud Has a Dark Lining,” by Daniel Mitchell, Cato, January 6, 2012

We don’t know for certain how many people are employed because no one counts them. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the number of unemployed based on a random sampling of the population. In itself, this isn’t a problem. Sampling is a well-established method of estimation when it is too time-consuming or expensive to count every single person. The problem arises when a politician pretends that the estimate is an exact measurement.
. . .
Each month, more people join the working age population than retire or die. Consequently, the economy needs to add about 180,000 jobs a month just to keep up with population growth.
. . .
The problem arises when a politician pretends that adding more jobs means there are fewer people out of work. The next time a politician crows about the economy adding thousands of jobs, subtract 180,000 to get the real jobs gained. This week, Business Insider estimated that the economy will add 130,000 jobs in May. Subtracting 180,000 for population growth means we’ll be left with 50,000 more unemployed Americans in May than we had in April.

Looking at our current labor market, the official unemployment rate was at a high of 10 percent in October 2009, and has fallen to 8.1 percent. Some politicians say this is evidence that their policies are bringing back jobs. But, much of the decline in the unemployment rate is due to people giving up looking for work. If we were to add back the people who have stopped looking for work since October 2009, the unemployment rate would be more than 11 percent. The official unemployment rate has fallen largely because we’ve stopped counting large numbers of jobless people.

3 Lies About Jobs and the Unemployment Rate,” by Antony Davies, US News, May 29, 2012




Legislative Drafter’s Deskbook: A Practical Guide

Congressional Deskbook: The Practical and Comprehensive Guide to Congress

Citizen’s Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates

The Federal Budget Process: A description of the federal and congressional budget processes, including timelines, from TheCapitol.Net

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Refer / Referral (

From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms

Refer / Referral

Once introduced in the House or Senate, or passed by one chamber and sent to the other, most measures are referred to committee. Referral to committee occurs so that a committee can scrutinize the legislation by holding hearings and gauging sentiment for its enactment, and, if the committee proceeds to markup, proposing amendments to the parent chamber or writing, introducing, and reporting a new measure. To which committee(s) a measure is referred can have a significant impact on its fate. Referral of a measure is based on a committee’s jurisdiction, which, in turn, is determined by a variety of factors.

The principal factor in making a referral is Rule X in the House or Rule XXV in the Senate. Each rule lists the broad subject matter within the purview of each standing committee, although not all issues within a committee’s jurisdiction are identified. In addition, these jurisdictional descriptions do not explicitly identify jurisdiction over particular measures, executive-branch departments and agencies, or programs operated within those departments. Accordingly, the formal provisions of the rules are supplemented by an intricate series of precedents and informal agreements. A referral decision is formally the responsibility of the Speaker for the House and the presiding officer for the Senate. In practice, however, the parliamentarian in each chamber advises these officials on an appropriate referral.

A very important function of the parliamentarian in the House and the Senate is to advise the Speaker / presiding officer on referral of measures.

In the House, in addition to House Rule X, precedents and agreements affect referral decisions. In general, these precedents dictate that once a measure has been referred to a given committee, the measure’s subject matter remains the responsibility of that committee. The precedents further presume that amendments to laws that originated in a committee are within the purview of that committee as well.

Referral is determined primarily by committee jurisdiction. Several other factors may influence the referral of a measure. The committee assignment of the sponsor often serves as a signal that a bill should be referred to a committee on which the sponsor serves. The timing of a measure’s introduction can also influence its referral; for example, introduction following a series of issue hearings held by a committee could signal that the panel wants to legislate on the issue it recently studied. Under House Rule X, the Speaker usually designates a “primary” committee to receive a referral. If other panels have jurisdictional responsibilities over some of the issues in the measure, they may receive a sequential referral.

A referral can also designate specific titles or sections of a measure within each committee’s responsibility. More common, however, is a referral for “issues within the jurisdiction of the committee.” Referral without designation of a primary committee can be made under “exceptional circumstances.” A sequential referral may be made after a measure’s introduction or after the primary committee reports the measure.

The Speaker has authority to impose a time limit on committees receiving a referral. Sometimes the time limit is determined at the time of referral; sometimes a time limit is imposed after a measure has been referred.

In the Senate, under Senate Rule XVII measures are referred to committee based on “the subject matter which predominates” in the legislation, commonly referred to as predominant jurisdiction. The Senate generally refers a measure to a single committee based on this rule and the jurisdictions enumerated in Senate Rule XXV.

Predominant jurisdiction allows a measure to be guided to a specific committee, so that the referral predetermines its fate. Many senators, as well as lobbyists, understand that they can influence the legislative agenda by learning how creative drafting of a measure can possibly affect its referral. For example, is tobacco an agricultural issue within the purview of the Agriculture Committee, generally friendly to tobacco? Or, is tobacco a health risk, an issue within the predominant purview of a less friendly Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee? Or, is the issue about tobacco advertising, and thus within the predominant purview of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee? The drafting of a measure on tobacco is not simple if one wants a specific committee to obtain the referral.

The rule further allows a measure to be referred to more than one panel if an issue crosses jurisdictional boundaries or predominance is not clear-cut. Such multiple referrals are not common, in part because they are typically made by unanimous consent after negotiations among affected committee chairs. A joint motion made by the majority and minority leader for multiple referrals is also allowed under Senate Rule XVII, but it has never been used.

Finally, under Senate Rule XIV, the majority leader, his designee, or any senator may follow a set of procedures that allow a measure to be placed directly on the Senate’s legislative calendar without referral to committee. Placement there, however, does not guarantee that floor action will ever be scheduled.

Also see Joint Resolution / H. J. Res. / S. J. Res.; Parliamentarian; Presiding Officer; Speaker; Unanimous Consent; § 6.30 Referral of Legislation to Committee, in Congressional Deskbook.




Legislative Drafter’s Deskbook: A Practical Guide

Congressional Deskbook: The Practical and Comprehensive Guide to Congress

Citizen’s Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates

The Federal Budget Process: A description of the federal and congressional budget processes, including timelines, from TheCapitol.Net

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Contempt of Congress (

From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms

Contempt of Congress

(ATF gunwalking scandal, aka Fast and Furious)

Contempt of Congress 1: The power of Congress to punish for contempt is inextricably related to the power of Congress to investigate. Generally speaking, Congress’ authority to investigate and obtain information, including but not limited to confidential information, is extremely broad. While there is no express provision of the Constitution or specific statute authorizing the conduct of congressional oversight or investigations, the Supreme Court has firmly established that such power is essential to the legislative function as to be implied from the general vesting of legislative powers in Congress. The broad legislative authority to seek and enforce informational demands was unequivocally established in two Supreme Court rulings arising out of the 1920’s Teapot Dome scandal: McGrain v. Daugherty, 273 U.S. 135 (1927), and Sinclair v. United States, 279 U.S. 263 (1929). Subsequent Supreme Court rulings have consistently reiterated and reinforced the breadth of Congress’ investigative authority.

Tools available to Congress during investigations include subpoenas, contempt power, grants of immunity, and staff interviews and depositions. House and Senate rules authorize standing committees and subcommittees to compel individuals to appear and testify in hearings or to require the provision of documents to Congress. Either chamber could also by resolution delegate that power, or additional powers, to special or select committees. If an individual fails to provide testimony or documents as required, provisions in statute allow the full House or Senate to cite a witness for criminal contempt and refer the matter to the U.S. attorney; the Senate also has recourse to a civil contempt proceeding against witnesses other than executive-branch officials. In the past, the threat of a congressional subpoena or contempt citation has often led to negotiated or full compliance on the part of the targeted individual or office. Litigation is used at times, but federal judges generally encourage congressional and executive parties to settle their differences out of court.

Contempt of Congress is punishable by statute and under the inherent powers of Congress. Congress has not exercised its inherent contempt power for some time. The statutory contempt of Congress provision, 2 U.S.C. § 192, has been employed only slightly more often and rarely in recent years. Much of what we know of the offense comes from Cold War period court decisions. Congress’ contempt power is the means by which Congress responds to certain acts that in its view obstruct the legislative process. Contempt may be used to coerce compliance (inherent contempt), punish the contemnor (criminal contempt), and to remove the obstruction (civil contempt). Although arguably any action that directly obstructs the effort of Congress to exercise its constitutional powers may constitute a contempt, in the last seventy years the contempt power (primarily through the criminal contempt process) has generally been employed only in instances of refusals of witnesses to appear before committees, to respond to questions, or to produce documents.

For more, see 2 U.S.C. Chapter 6: Congressional and Committee Procedure; Investigations – FDsys.

Enforcement through one of the forms of contempt proceedings available to the House and Senate is undertaken only after committee and chamber approval. If a witness invokes a Fifth Amendment privilege against testifying, a committee might still compel testimony with a two-thirds vote of the committee in favor of seeking a court order to grant immunity and direct the witness to testify. The immunity granted protects the witness from use of the testimony in a criminal prosecution. A grant of immunity might then jeopardize criminal prosecution, the prosecutor bearing the burden of showing that the case is not based on or derived from the immunized testimony.

The House can also adopt a simple resolution–a resolution of inquiry–requesting information or documents from the president or directing a department or agency head to supply such information. Such a resolution is used to obtain factual information, not to request opinions or investigations. Congressional committees often use staff interviews to collect information as part of an investigation. This staff work provides tighter focus to the questioning and witness list for investigative hearings. On some occasions, House and Senate resolutions have provided specific authority to a committee for staff members to take sworn depositions. Special committee procedures have usually been established under these circumstances. Among other things, depositions, which are conducted in private, might lead to more efficient use of hearing time, facilitate more candid responses from witnesses than they would provide in a hearing, and allow further investigation of witness allegations prior to the airing of those allegations at a public hearing. Under certain circumstances, a committee might seek a court order to grant partial or full immunity to a witness as a means of obtaining testimony.

House rules give the Oversight and Government Reform Committee wide latitude in conducting oversight. Senate rules do the same for the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Each committee may conduct oversight government-wide and on intergovernmental programs and activities, and each is given a special responsibility to study GAO reports and recommend action to Congress based on those reports. In addition to general provisions encouraging oversight, House and Senate rules give specific committees “special” or “comprehensive” authority to conduct oversight in certain policy areas, although a particular policy area might fall within the legislative jurisdiction of several committees.

From time to time, Congress has also established temporary commissions to investigate particular events or issues. Such commissions have varied in their mandates, authorities, and profiles. The 9/11 Commission, for example, was established by law (P.L. 107-306; 116 Stat. 2408), and was populated by experienced and knowledgeable individuals who demonstrated a determination to reach consensus and see the commission’s recommendations implemented. The commission had the power to hold hearings and collect evidence, and was granted subpoena power.

Contempt of Congress 2 (Contempt for Congress): Many people have contempt for Congress, most commonly expressed in opeds, political cartoons and opinion polls regarding congressional job approval. For example, Real Clear Politics has a roundup of different polls, and for the week of May 5, 2012, the average approval was 13.8% and the disapproval was 78.5%. Polling Report also has a page showing Congress’ job rating over time.

Contempt of Congress 3: Many also feel that the “Contempt of Congress” is Congress’ contempt for citizens, similar to that expressed in the Puck cartoon below.

Congressional contempt, by Frederick Burr Opper, in Puck, January 31, 1883, Caption: Republican Congressman "He is howling for help." Monopolist "Throw him a promise!" Source:Library of Congress 2012645443

Congressional contempt, by Frederick Burr Opper, in Puck, January 31, 1883, Caption: Republican Congressman "He is howling for help." Monopolist "Throw him a promise!" Source:Library of Congress 2012645443

Also see Executive Privilege; Immunity; Oversight / Oversight Committee; Privilege; § 8.70 Congress and the Executive: Oversight and Investigation, § 8.75 Committee Investigations and Witness Protections, § 8.76 Example of Subpoena to Executive Branch Official, § 8.77 Seeking to Compel Testimony, in Congressional Deskbook.



Legislative Drafter’s Deskbook: A Practical Guide

Congressional Deskbook: The Practical and Comprehensive Guide to Congress

Citizen’s Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates

The Federal Budget Process: A description of the federal and congressional budget processes, including timelines, from TheCapitol.Net

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Understanding Legislative Language

If you are new to lobbying and advocacy, legislative language can be confusing and complex. Below is a guide to help introduce you to some of the most common terms you will encounter on Capitol Hill.

Describe Yourself in One Word
Creative Commons License photo credit: CarbonNYC

  • Adopted-used for conference reports
  • Agreed to-used for amendments, simple resolutions and concurrent resolutions
  • Concur-used for an amendment of the other chamber
  • Ordered-used for a previous questions, third reading or yeas and nays
  • Passed-used for bills and joint resolutions
  • Sustained-used for points of order and rulings of chair

These terms relate to congressional approval.

There are many other terms that are unique to Capitol Hill and the legislative process. One of those terms is cloture. This term refers to the procedure by which a Senate filibuster may be ended. It requires the signature of at least sixteen senators as well as the votes of 3/5 or 60 members of the Senate. Another common term you may encounter is discharge petition. This is the procedure for bringing a bill out of committee and to the House without a report. The petition requires the signature of a full majority of House members, Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna Gelakwhich is a total of 218 members.

Markup refers to a meeting by a committee or subcommittee during which members may offer, debate and vote on amendments to a measure. A poison pill is an amendment that is specifically designed for the purposes of being politically attractive enough to pass and yet will be unattractive to the supporters of the bill so that it will eventually be withdrawn.

Only members of Congress can offer bills and amendments. Amendments and bills that are introduced by Congressional members may be initially drafted or suggested by staff or even by an outside organizations, but the Senate or House Offices of Legislative Counsel assists congressional representatives in formatting the language. If you are attempting to get an amendment or bill offered, a congressional member or staff representative must work with the Senate or House Legislative Counsel’s office to finalize the language so that it is presented in the appropriate format.

To learn more about common terms used in lobbying, see TheCapitol.Net’s Glossary of Congressional and Legislative Terms and the Congressional Deskbook.

Reference: Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna Gelak, Section 4.16 Congressional Approval Terminology and Appendix 4.

For more information about the legislative process, see these resources from TheCapitol.Net:

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