Dewonkify™

A glossary of terms commonly heard around Washington, D.C.

“We need to slap a discharge petition on that cromnibus.” Clear as mud, right? That’s precisely why we’ve created the Dewonkify™ glossary of common terms and phrases used on Capitol Hill and around Washington, D.C.

302(b) Allocation

Definition

Each year, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees receive an overall funding allocation for the coming federal fiscal year. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees then, respectively, decide on how to apportion the overall amount to each of their corresponding 12 subcommittees. The amount assigned to each of the 12 subcommittees is known as a 302(b) allocation and taken together the 12 assigned amounts are known as 302(b) allocations. From this funding allocation starting point, the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees distribute federal spending authority throughout the specific departments, agencies, and programs under their jurisdiction.

History

The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 modified Congress’ role with respect to the federal budgeting process. (Government Printing Office Public Law 93-344) The main provisions of the law created a process whereby both chambers of Congress agree on a single concurrent budget resolution which is not signed by the President. Additionally, during budget debates members may raise budget points of order to have specific language removed from underlying legislation. The final agreed upon Concurrent resolution passed in both chambers sets an overall top level spending figure (302(a) allocation) to guide appropriators as they craft the 12 individual appropriations bills. The chairs of the Appropriations Committees of the House and Senate then each release a document setting their respective top line numbers for each of the 12 appropriations bills, known as 302(b) allocations, named after section 302(b) of the Congressional Budget Control Act. The 302(b) allocations outline the maximum spending levels for each of the 12 individual spending measures. It is not uncommon for the House and Senate to apportion funding differently and for the 302(b) allocations between the chambers to diverge. These differences usually get resolved during either a formal or informal conference committee between House and Senate Appropriators.

Actuarial Value (of health benefit plans)

Definition

Actuarial value outlines the percentage of medical costs that a health plan will cover.

What It Means

Actuarial value is meant to define how "generous" a health plan is in covering health care costs. Understanding the actuarial value of a health plan helps consumers understand what they might have to pay (deductibles and coinsurance/copays) out-of-pocket in order to cover their overall health care costs.

History

Under the Affordable Care Act, actuarial value is utilized to help individuals and the small business market understand and compare health plan options offered inside and outside of health insurance exchange marketplaces. Health plan coverage options offered within the health exchanges, which began in 2013, were outlined through "metal" coverage tiers (bronze at 60%, silver at 70%, gold at 80%, and platinum at 90%). For example, for a plan with a gold actuarial value of 80%, on average, an individual would have to pay 20% of the cost of their covered benefits.

Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute

Definition

An amendment intended to replace the entire text of a bill.

What It Means

The process of proposing an Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute is used by either the House or the Senate to replace the entire text of a piece of legislation. 

History

The process of proposing an Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute is used by either the House or the Senate to replace the entire text of a piece of legislation. There are three main instances where this is commonly used: when the full chamber agrees to adopt an amendment that substitutes the entire text to correct for minor issues such as line numbering or typographical errors; when the whole chamber accepts a large amendment package 'en bloc' from the committee of jurisdiction allowing for second degree amendments to be filed; and during the appropriations process especially in the Senate. The origination clause of the Constitution requires that all bills raising or appropriating money originate in the House of Representatives. For this reason, the Senate will often take a House bill and substitute its complete language prior to amending the bill, maintaining the House bill name and number but using the Senate's language and technically complying with the origination clause. 

Used in a Sentence

The bill's sponsor proposed an amendment in the nature of a substitute in order to correct for a number of errors in the original bill text.

Anomaly

Definition

A mechanism for providing funding or other changes for a program that would otherwise not receive funding or continue in its current form under a continuing resolution (CR). Anomalies, which are typically only granted in special circumstances, can be used to adjust funding levels for specific programs in a CR to be higher or lower than the previous year's funding level.

When It's Relevant

When a CR is used for longer-term funding, then the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) usually prepares a list of anomalies to send to Congress.

Used in a Sentence

"Anomalies typically are included to prevent what some or all stakeholders and parties to CR negotiations perceive as major programmatic, operational, or management problems that would be caused if an otherwise 'cookie cutter' approach were used to provide funding at a uniform rate and with uniform restrictions." From "Interim Continuing Resolutions (CRs): Potential Impacts on Agency Operations," Clinton T. Brass, Congressional Research Service, March 16, 2010.

Appropriations

Definition

The designation of money for a particular use, such as for a federal program.

What It Means

The House first created a separate Appropriations Committee in 1865 and the Senate followed suit in 1867. In the House, appropriating duties were previously handled by the Committee on Ways and Means (which had been created in 1789). In 1789, Congress passed one general appropriations bill that distributed $639,000. The legislation covered 13 lines of printed statute. When the House Appropriations Committee was created, there were 10 separate appropriations bills while the original Senate Appropriations Committee divided appropriations into 13 areas. Until recently, appropriations consisted of programmatic requests, requests for language in the Committee reports stating support for programs or issues, and earmarks (money directed toward specific projects rather than governmental programs). In 2010 the House banned earmarks; the Senate has unofficially followed suit.

History

Just because funding for a program is included in the President's Budget or funding is authorized in a piece of legislation does not mean that the program will be funded. That is just the first step in gaining funding; the Senate and House Appropriations Committees must allocate funding for money to actually reach a federal program. Each chamber has an Appropriations Committee that is broken down into twelve subcommittees, each of which has jurisdiction over a specific area of federal funding (such as Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education or Commerce, Science, and Justice). The Appropriations Committees must develop a bill, mark it up, conference with the other chamber, and pass the same measure by the beginning of each fiscal year (October 1st), or pass a continuing resolution, and if not, face a government shutdown. The President's Budget serves as a guide to the Appropriations Committees. The Appropriations Process provides an opportunity for advocates to weigh in with their policymakers on programs and issues of interest and influence funding levels.

Appropriations Season

Definition

Funding the federal government takes multiple steps. First, the President releases a budget, which is his blueprint for federal spending. If all goes according to plan, Congress drafts and passes a budget outlining allocations for broad categories of federal funding (i.e. health, defense, foreign affairs). The Congressional budget does not need to be signed by the President, and Congress may or may not include the President's wishes in its budget. After the Congressional budget sets broad funding numbers, members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees receive those allocations and begin drafting the twelve appropriations bills that become law and actually fund the government agency by agency.

Under regular order, appropriators take a deep dive and fund specific programs across the federal agencies through 12 appropriations bills. Members of Congress can submit their requests or priorities for federal funding in a letter to each appropriations subcommittee. These requests are how a Member of Congress relays their priorities and what they think funding levels should be for specific programs - the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases or NIDDK program for instance - or report language to be included in the committee report that may provide Congressional direction to an agency. Each subcommittee has a deadline for requests from Members of Congress. To inform their requests to the subcommittees, each Member of Congress has their own earlier deadline for constituents and organizations to make their case for funding priorities, which may or may not make it in the Member's request to the Subcommittee. Hundreds of internal decisions are made regarding which requests to submit to the relevant subcommittees and which requests will not be considered.

The President releases his budget sometime between the first Monday in January and the first Monday in February. The deadline for Members letters to the subcommittee range from March-April. The time in between the President's budget and request deadlines in known as Appropriations Season in Washington, D.C.

What It Means

Funding the federal government takes multiple steps.

Budget Reconciliation

Definition

The House and Senate can pass budget resolutions that contain reconciliation instructions. Those instructions contain directives to authorizing or appropriations committees to devise strategies to change spending to match the levels of the budget resolution. The bills produced by those committees are then treated under special rules in the Senate that allow for only limited debate: 20 hours or 10 hours on a conference report. Under normal rules of debate, most legislation requires 60 votes to pass the Senate (a filibuster). A bill produced under reconciliation instructions can bypass a filibuster in the Senate. Democrats used reconciliation to pass the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In 2017 Republicans in Congress attempted to use reconciliation to repeal the ACA.

What It Means

The House and Senate can pass budget resolutions that contain reconciliation instructions. Those instructions contain directives to authorizing or appropriations committees to devise strategies to change spending...

Used in a Sentence

"Sources said the budget would focus on repealing Obamacare through the fast-track budgeting procedure known as reconciliation, which allows the bill to clear the Senate with just 51 votes." -Politico

Deeper Dive

Quick review of the Congressional funding process: The Federal Government is funded through mandatory and discretionary spending. Authorizing committees create federal programs, and in some cases, agencies. They can also dissolve those agencies, get rid of programs in those agencies, or change their operations through law. For discretionary spending, the Budget Committees draft resolutions that serve as the framework (through top-line numbers for broad areas such as health, defense, etc.) that appropriators use as the basis for their funding decisions for individual programs in bills that are sent to the President. Appropriations bills are signed into law and fund the government. Other programs such as Medicare are funded through what is called mandatory funding and not through the appropriations process.

Caucus

Definition

A caucus is defined as a closed meeting of a group of persons belonging to the same political party or faction, usually to select candidates or to decide on policy. The term is also used to describe a group of people united to promote an agreed-upon cause.

History

According to William Harris, a professor at Middlebury College, "the term Caucus is first attested in the diary of John Adams in 1763 as a meeting of a small group interested in political matters, but William Gordon's 'History of the Independence of the United States of America, 1788' speaks of the establishment of caucus political clubs as going back fifty years earlier than his time of writing in 1774, so a first-occurrence date for the caucus can be estimated in retrospect as early as 1724."

Used in a Sentence

Members of the Youth Sport Safety Caucus hosted a briefing with leading health professional organizations to discuss ways to prevent concussions in women's soccer.

CBO Score

Definition

"Score" or "CBO Score" generally refers to a cost estimate conducted by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). According to CBO, the agency is required by federal law to undertake a formal cost estimate for most legislative proposals (except appropriations measures) that are passed out of a House or Senate full committee. CBO cost estimates employ certain economic assumptions and require the agency to make particular projections over a period of time, usually 10 years. CBO scores use current federal law as a baseline for its assumptions and the agency does not presume any future modifications that might be made to federal laws, programs, or spending. For example, if scoring Medicare legislation, CBO "takes that legislation as it is written and does not attempt to predict the ways in which the Congress might amend that legislation in the future … in addition to its budget projections that reflect current law, the agency regularly shows the effects of adopting alternative policies that have been discussed by the Congress, so that the budgetary impact of those alternative policies is clear."

What It Means

The term "score" can be used both as a noun and a verb. For example, it is a common for Congressional staff to ask advocates, "Has CBO scored your bill?" Translated: the staffer is inquiring as to whether a cost estimate has been undertaken on the particular legislation. In this example, the term is being used as a verb. Another common question Members of Congress may ask when being approached to cosponsor legislation is, "What is the CBO score?" In this case, it is being used as a noun and the elected official wants to know the amount of federal spending CBO has estimated as the cost of the proposal.

History

CBO was created in 1974, as part of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 and it is tasked with undertaking nonpartisan, "independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process." In addition to formal cost estimates of bills that are passed out of full committee, the agency - upon request by a committee or member of Congressional leadership - can also undertake a formal cost estimate at other stages of the legislative process. It also is common for CBO to be asked to do an informal "score" of a draft bill or other proposal, to help inform the policymaking process. These "informal" scores typically are kept confidential as they "do not undergo the same review procedures required for formal estimates." Other entities besides CBO can conduct legislative cost estimates; it is not uncommon for advocacy organizations to hire economic consulting firms to help them "score" legislative proposals to have cost information to share with Congressional offices they are approaching for support. For such "scores" to have any credibility they must utilize CBO's overall methodology and employ its economic assumptions, projections, and baseline. The following CBO resources were used as background material for this post: www.cbo.gov, www.cbo.gov/about/processes, and www.cbo.gov/cost-estimates.

Christmas Tree Bill

Definition

A Christmas Tree bill is used to describe a bill that is one of the few legislative vehicles that might move and actually pass in Congress at a particular time (usually before the end of the year or a congressional recess) to which various and numerous Members of Congress try to attach their favored piece of legislation. These attached pieces of legislation are akin to ornaments on the Christmas tree.

What It Means

The phrase is used in two similar but still distinct ways. The first is focused more on logistics. Thousands of bills are introduced every session of Congress; far, far fewer pass. If a bill is moving through the legislative process, it may be one of the few things moving or the last thing moving before Congress adjourns (usually in December, hence the connection to Christmas). If you are a Member of Congress and you have something you want to pass, you try to attach it to that moving bill. You hang an ornament on the tree, so to speak. The other similar way the phrase is used still focuses on the amount of items added, but the intent is slightly different. Sometimes in order to get votes for a particular piece of legislation, leadership in Congress may be willing to add various Members of Congress' pet legislation to a bill. Again, adding an ornament to the tree. The danger in both scenarios is that the tree becomes too heavy from all the ornaments and topples over leaving no tree and no ornaments. It is all part of the delicate legislative dance - a Nutcracker Suite perhaps?

History

No one knows for sure when and where the expression was first used, but the above quote from a 1956 Time Magazine article is thought to be the first published use of the phrase. For 18 days, Senators had wrangled about the farm bill, introducing more than a hundred amendments, rejecting 31 and adopting 21. At the end of last week, with some 60 amendments to go, New Mexico's Democratic Senator Clinton P. Anderson looked at the result and said the above quote.

Used in a Sentence

"This bill gets more and more like a Christmas tree; there's something on it for nearly everyone." - Time

Cloture

Definition

A Senate procedure used to end a filibuster. It has become, essentially, a vote to end debate on a certain piece of legislation.

How it Works

Prior to 1917, Senate debate could only be ended through unanimous consent. In 1917, the Senate adopted the cloture rule (Rule 22) as a method of ending filibusters. A motion for cloture requires signatures from 16 Senators; once the motion has the signatures a vote is held. Three-fifths, or 60 votes, are needed for the cloture motion to pass; if passed, debate on the bill is limited to 30 hours. Once cloture has been filed, an individual Senators may speak for no more than one hour during the 30 hour period. Any amendments to the legislation filed after cloture must be germane, or relevant to the legislation at hand. In addition to ending a filibuster, cloture motions are a way for a Majority Leader to prevent Senators from the minority party from introducing non-germane amendments. In a closely divided Senate, continued negotiations on a bill may be necessary, since 60 votes for cloture can be unlikely.

History

The number of cloture votes has skyrocketed, beginning in the early 1970s and experiencing another marked increase in the early 1990s. Between its invocation in 1917 and the late 1960s, zero to seven cloture votes during a two-year session of Congress was typical. In the 1970s and 1980s, cloture was used more frequently, between 20 to 60 times. The number in a single Congress spiked in the 115th Congress (2017-2019), with 201 cloture motions.

Conference Committee

Definition

A mechanism by which the House of Representatives and the Senate reconcile differences between legislation they have passed in their respective chambers in order to pass one identical piece of legislation.

History

For a bill to become law, both chambers of Congress must agree to an identical piece of legislation that can then be signed by the President. One way to arrive at this point is for one chamber to pass a bill previously passed by the other chamber without modification. Otherwise, the Senate may take a House bill and amend it in its entirety by proposing an amendment in the nature of a substitute, and then send the bill back to the House. This is typical of bills that are constitutionally mandated to originate in the House of Representatives, such as a revenue/tax bill or an appropriations bill. A third way to pass an identical bill into law is by taking a piece of legislation from both the House and Senate and referring the two bills to a conference committee. Conference committees are made up of Senators and Representatives designated by the leadership of both chambers. Usually, the lead sponsors of each bill chair the conference committee. Once the conference committee debates, votes on a single bill, and produces a report, the bill is referred to both the House and the Senate. According to Senate Rule XXVIII and House Rule XXII, the conference bill and report are treated as privileged and will be placed on the floors of both chambers on an expedited schedule. The first chamber may vote to recommit the bill to the conference committee, but once the first chamber votes and passes the bill, the second no longer has the ability to send the bill back to conference.

Congressional Budget Justification

What It Means

Each year the President prepares and submits to Congress a budget, outlining his spending and policy priorities for the coming federal fiscal year. Accompanying his budget are narrative explanations from each federal agency which present to Congress, specifically the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, the rationale behind the proposed increases or decreases in spending and/or any suggested changes in policy. These "budget justifications" or "Congressional Justifications" (CJs) also include information about spending for the current federal fiscal year, the prior federal fiscal year, and the upcoming "request" year. The CJs typically provide updates regarding agency programs, initiatives, projects, and activities and report on the status of requests that Congress has made of the agencies in the previous year's appropriations measure.

Used in a Sentence

"The NIH Congressional Justification (CJ) provides the Senate and House Appropriations Committees detailed estimates and justifications for research and research support activities (infrastructure, administrative, etc.) that NIH would anticipate funding at the President's Budget Request level." - National Institute of Health (NIH) Office of Budget

CR/Continuing Resolution

Definition

Legislation to provide budget authority for federal agencies to continue operating until the 12 regular appropriations spending bills are passed. Congress passes a continuing resolution (CR) in the form of a joint resolution at or near the beginning of a new fiscal year (starting on October 1), or when the previous CR is about to expire, and it funds the government at or near current levels for a specific length of time.

Used in a Sentence

To keep the government going, at least until they can work out a deal to pass the 12 bills in some form, they have to pass a continuing resolution, or resolutions.

History

Unless the 12 annual appropriations bills that Congress must pass are approved by the House and Senate and signed by the President, CRs are necessary to continue normal government operations. Since 2000, Congress has passed CRs ranging anywhere from one day to 157 days, with the highest number of CRs signed in 2001, when 21 CRs were passed. Standoffs between political parties or between the president and Congress may lead to the necessity of a CR for the government to remain functional. In December 2018, the inability of the 115th Congress and President Trump to agree to fiscal year appropriations or a CR led to the longest U.S. government shutdown in history, lasting 35 days.

Cromnibus

Definition

"Cromnibus" is a term policymakers have given to a spending bill that combines a short-term continuing resolution for some federal programs and a long-term omnibus to cover all remaining federal spending.

What It Means

Congress is in charge of enacting regular appropriations bills to fund the government for each fiscal year. If Congress has not passed one or more regular appropriations bill before the beginning of a fiscal year, a continuing resolution (CR) can be passed to temporarily extend funds for government programs, usually at the current fiscal year's spending levels. An omnibus spending bill is a combination of several regular appropriations bills. Merging the spending measures into a cromnibus aids in avoiding a government shutdown, while allowing Congress additional time to debate funding for potentially controversial programs.

Used in a Sentence

"Ideas floated by lawmakers include a bill denying funds to the agencies that would carry out the actions, and moving a "cromnibus" that would consist of an omnibus measure for most of the government, but a shorter-term continuing resolution for agencies carrying out the immigration actions." - The Hill

Debt Ceiling

Definition

The statutory authority given by the Congress to the U.S. Treasury to borrow a certain amount of money and/or issue securities to fund the operations of the federal government.

What It Means

The U.S. government, through the Department of the Treasury, regularly borrows money to cover the cost of running the government's operations, as well as to pay for maturing securities, such as treasury notes, bonds, and bills. Treasury notes, bonds, and bills are issued to raise funds to support the federal government's activities. This borrowing of money is referred to as public debt. The amount of money the U.S. Department of the Treasury is allowed to borrow typically has been controlled — and limited — by the Congress. This restriction on the federal government's borrowing authority is known as the "debt ceiling" or "debt limit." When borrowing approaches the authorized amount it is referred to as "hitting the debt ceiling;" the Congress then must act to increase the debt limit or else the government cannot borrow additional funds. Without authority to borrow additional money and pay for maturing securities, the federal government could default on its debts resulting in significant domestic and international economic disruption.

History

According to the Congressional Budget Office, Congress long has restricted the Department of Treasury's ability to issue debt and has exercised control over the total amount of borrowing. However, until the summer of 2011, raising the debt ceiling traditionally had been a pro forma occurrence without much policy debate or partisanship in the Congress. The "debt ceiling crisis" that occurred in the summer of 2011 was a political debate and battle between Congressional Republicans and President Obama. The Republicans generally were refusing to increase the federal government's authority to borrow money without taking steps contemporaneously to decrease federal spending. The debate resulted in enactment of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which raised the debt ceiling but also called for reductions in federal spending. This policy debate brought the "debt ceiling" issue into the public forum and introduced the phrase into the vernacular. Click here for more information about the Budget Control Act. (For more history on the debt ceiling, read here).

Used in a Sentence

"After the Debt-Ceiling Breach: What Day 1 in Default America Might Look Like" The Atlantic

Deem

Definition

When the House and Senate have not agreed to a budget resolution, they may "deem" legislation to act as a budget resolution in order to move forward with the budget and appropriations process.

How It Works

The law governing the congressional budget process, the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, calls for the annual adoption of a budget resolution to establish levels of funding. Section 302(a) requires that the aggregate amounts of spending in the annual budget resolution be allocated by committee; this is the overall number the House and Senate Appropriations Committees receive to fund the appropriations for that year. Section 302(b) requires the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to divide their allocations by subcommittee. Around Washington, this is literally known as the 302(b) allocation. So, there is a problem when there is no agreed-upon budget resolution. Complicating things, Members of either chamber may raise a "point of order" against legislation that would violate budget resolution policies. In other words, if someone tries to bring up a spending bill, say the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill, without an agreed-upon budget resolution and therefore no 302(a) or 302(b) allocation, a Member could object on a point of order. The deeming resolution is how Congress gets around these issues. The deeming resolution simply "deems" or provides the new spending allocations to the Appropriations Committee. According to the Congressional Research Service, "they also may set new aggregate budget levels, provide revised spending allocations to other House and Senate committees, or provide for other related purposes. A deeming resolution may even declare that a budget resolution (in its entirety), passed earlier in the session by one chamber, is deemed to have the force and effect as if adopted by both chambers." A deeming resolution is a simple resolution requiring only the majority of votes in the chamber to pass and become effective.

History

Since the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, Congress has failed more than a few times to finalize a budget and has used deeming resolutions to "deem" funding allocations.

Discharge Petition

Definition

A petition used in the House of Representatives that starts a process to force a bill out of committee and to the House floor for a vote. A successful petition requires the signatures of 218 members, a majority of the House.

What It Means

The House of Representative is a "majority rules" chamber. The rules of the House of Representatives are written in a way that allows the majority party to have a lot of control over which bills are considered and how they are considered. Basically, if the majority party leadership doesn't want a bill considered, in all likelihood, it will not be. One of the few mechanisms available to usurp House leadership control is the discharge petition, in which 218 members sign a petition to take a bill out of committee and place it on the House floor for consideration. With 218 signatures needed, the minority party, which by definition has fewer than 218 members, must get some members of the majority party to sign the petition. This is a very difficult hurdle; as such, discharge petitions are almost never successful and are used primarily as a political tactic.

Used in a Sentence

"A discharge petition is a procedural tactic that allows an absolute majority of the House of Representatives (218 lawmakers) to force a floor vote on a bill, even if leaders who control the House floor oppose the measure. Successful use of discharge petitions conceivably could help the minority party hijack the majority party's legislative agenda." - The Washington Post.

Dynamic Scoring

Definition

A method of analysis used to calculate the prospective macroeconomic effects of a bill. As opposed to only considering the cost to the government alongside static levers like Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and inflation, this analysis also estimates changes in behavior or effects to the wider economy that may yield or preclude economic benefits or government revenues in the future.

Used in a sentence

"Under dynamic scoring, budget scorers would include in their analysis estimates on how the behavior of companies and individuals would change as a result of legislation, and how this would either bring in more or less federal revenue."
-The Hill

History

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) was created by and for Congress in 1975 to provide independent, nonpartisan analysis of budgetary and economic issues. The impetus was to create a "traffic cop" for government spending in Congress, according to Zachary Karabell of The Washington Post.The CBO, according to their methodology site, is required by law to "produce a formal cost estimate for nearly every bill that is approved by a full committee of either the House or the Senate." Congress sends bills (except appropriations bills) to the CBO for these cost estimates, or as the process is commonly called: "scoring" or "to be scored." Oftentimes, the costs included in these reports are referred to as a "CBO Score."

The CBO has made clear that scoring a bill is not an exact science and currently does not use dynamic scoring when looking at the cost of legislation. Dynamic Scoring calculates the economic impact of legislation on the wider economy. "Tax cuts spurring investments, leading to jobs" or "farm subsidies increasing regional crop yield, leading to a decrease in the cost of corn and products on the market" are two potential hypothetical analyses that can be concluded from a cost estimate using the process of dynamic scoring.

Electoral College

Definition

The Electoral College is a body of 538 electors that determine the official outcome of the Presidential elections. Each state's representation in the Electoral College is based on the state population (two per state, plus one for each Congressional district). Washington, DC has three electoral votes, but other U.S. territories do not have any. After the votes are cast on Election Day, electors gather in their respective state capitols to cast votes for President and Vice President based on their state's popular vote. The vote is then certified. In all states except Maine and Nebraska, which use a district-based electoral system, votes are awarded winner-take-all — a candidate just needs to receive 51% of the popular vote to receive all the state's electoral votes. Each state decides how electors are chosen; no person holding elected or appointed federal office can serve as an elector. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win; if no one reaches that threshold the House of Representatives determines the President.

Used in a Sentence

"The election night drama of 2000 may be recreated this year, as experts say there is a real chance for one presidential candidate to win the popular vote but lose the presidency thanks to the Electoral College system." (from U.S. News article "Electoral College, Popular Vote Split is Possible, Experts Say")

What it Means

What really matters in an election is getting 270 electoral votes. Under the Electoral College system, the winner of the popular vote can lose an election — it has happened five times, in 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016. The distribution of votes across the country is important; while the popular vote may swing in favor of one candidate, if the votes are concentrated in certain states, they may not have enough electoral votes to win.

History

The roots of the Electoral College go back to the founding fathers' debate over the extent to which the United States would be a federal system. Virginia delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention proposed having Congress elect the President. Out of concerns about separation of powers and the independence of the President, the "Committee of Eleven" recommended that there be an independent group of electors, apportioned to states in equal numbers as their representation in Congress. This indirect election mechanism was then incorporated into the Constitution; Article II, Section 1 refers to a system of Presidential "electors" and lays out the framework for the Electoral College. While the Constitution describes this system and the role of these electors, the term "Electoral College" was not used until 1845. Throughout U.S. history there have been more than 700 proposals to reform the Electoral College, including efforts to change to a proportional vote base rather than winner-take-all and to abolish the system completely and rely on popular vote as the sole electoral method.

Entitlements

Definition

Benefits (services or financial benefits) guaranteed by law provided to eligible individuals by the federal government. Entitlement programs include (but are not limited to) Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the State Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), federal employee retirement benefits, food stamps, and certain veterans' programs.

History

The entitlement programs we are most familiar with today were developed primarily under two Administrations — during the 1930s and 1940s under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and in the 1960s under Lyndon Johnson. Roosevelt's "New Deal" programs included the 1935 passage of the Social Security Act, one of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation to date, which gave the federal government a role in aiding retirees and the unemployed. Johnson's "Great Society" program created Medicare to provide medical insurance for the disabled and people over 65, and Medicaid to provide medical coverage for low-income people.

What it Means

Entitlement programs account for more than half of government spending. Congress does not appropriate money every year to fund entitlement programs, as they do with programs funded through the annual appropriations process. Entitlement expenditure levels are based on the number of eligible enrollees and benefit criteria under current law. With a growing number of baby boomers reaching age 65, spending for Social Security and Medicare is anticipated to increase dramatically over the next few decades, making paying for these benefits challenging. In today's environment of deficit reduction and spending cuts, policymakers are discussing ways to reform entitlement programs to rein in spending.

Filibuster

Definition

A filibuster is a procedural tactic that is used to extend debate, delay a vote, or prevent legislative action. It is used in the U.S. Senate to require 60 members to vote in favor of "cloture" to bring legislation up for consideration. The House can cut off debate with a simple majority vote.

History

The word "filibuster" is derived from the Spanish term filibustero which means "freebooting" and the Dutch word vrijbuiter meaning "pirate."

Furlough

Definition

Temporary unpaid leave

Why It's Relevant

During a federal government shutdown, all "nonessential" workers are furloughed. These workers are essentially on unpaid leave for the duration of the shutdown. While on furlough, federal employees are not able to "volunteer" to work for the government and even checking their work e-mail is a violation of federal law. Some parts of the federal government and some employees are not affected by a shutdown because they are supported by funding not tied to the annual appropriations process (e.g., mandatory spending). For additional information see, the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM's) "Guidance for Shutdown Furloughs."

Health Insurance Exchanges

Definition

Health insurance exchanges (often referred to as "exchanges") are marketplaces where individuals and employers can purchase comprehensive health insurance. Health insurance exchanges became available in every state beginning January 1, 2014.

Background

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created new health insurance exchanges. Each state had to decide whether to operate their own state-based exchange (where the state maintains control over the entire exchange), a federal-state partnership exchange (where the state and federal government work together to operate the exchange), or a federal exchange (where the state relies almost entirely on the federal government to operate the exchange). Here is an interactive map of states and the status of state health insurance exchanges. Individuals with limited incomes can apply for tax credits to help offset the costs of their premiums and/or cost-sharing requirements. Health insurance plans that are operating in the health insurance exchanges must cover items and services with at least the following ten essential health benefit categories: prescription drug coverage, preventive care, emergency services and hospitalizations, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse services, ambulatory patient services, rehabilitation and habilitation services, laboratory services, preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management, and pediatric services (dental and vision).

Hold

Definition

An informal practice by which a Senator informs his or her floor leader that he or she does not wish a particular bill or other measure to reach the floor for consideration. The Majority Leader need not follow the Senator's wishes, but is on notice that the opposing Senator may filibuster any motion to proceed to consider the measure.

History

The hold is an informal custom of the Senate and not a part of the formalized rules. The Congressional Research Service notes that "the origins of the practice are unclear and lost in the mists of history," but "probably emerged from features long associated with the Senate, such as its emphasis on minority and individual interests, the informality and flexibility of its procedures, and a legislative culture that encourages accommodation for individual Senators' policy and personal goals." Since the 1970s, however, the practice has been widely used by Senators to push their policy goals and extract concessions.

How it Works

The Senate usually proceeds to its business by a series of unanimous consent agreements. A hold is essentially a threat by a member to his or her party leader that the senator intends to object to unanimous consent and use parliamentary procedures to stall consideration of a piece of legislation or a nomination if it is brought to the floor. The Majority Leader can still place the item on the Senate calendar, but given the amount of business that must be considered in a relatively small number of working days, the threat of extended debate is usually enough to keep the item off the agenda, at least temporarily. Oftentimes the senator placing the hold will remove the hold if certain concessions are made. In fact, it is now not uncommon for members to place holds on bills they don't necessarily oppose, simply as a means of negotiating another point or issue. While some senators make it publicly known that they have placed a hold on a bill or nomination, holds are more often done in secret, earning them the nickname of the "silent filibuster."

Inside the Beltway

Definition

"The Beltway" is a term used to describe the geographic area around Washington, DC, that is encircled by Interstate 495. "Inside the Beltway" refers to political and U.S. Government activities and work that occur in the greater Washington, DC, area.

History

The Capital Beltway (Interstate 495) was created in 1964, but it is unclear when the term "inside the Beltway" originated. However, Nicholas M. Horrock wrote in the New York Times on October 12, 1975, that, "It can be said that the myriad doubts about the Warren Commission's findings in the death of President Kennedy represent a reverse situation. The doubts would never be taken seriously until they were inside the Beltway, in the halls of Congress, the courts and the White House."

Manager's Amendment

Definition

A manager's amendment is a big amendment containing a number of individual amendments to a piece of legislation offered by the majority or minority Member of Congress managing the debate on the bill. A manager's amendment is almost always agreed to by both sides in advance.

History

No history was provided.

What it Means

When legislation actually starts moving in Congress, be it in committee or on the House or Senate floor, often many Members of Congress have amendments to offer. Sometimes these amendments are debated and voted on individually because they are substantial, controversial, or there is a political need to do so. Other times, however, there may be a number of amendments that both sides can agree to or that are technical fixes in drafting. In order to keep the process moving and not draw out the debate those amendments will be packaged together and offered as one amendment called a manager's amendment. Since both sides have agreed to what is in the manager's amendment, the amendment usually passes by voice vote or unanimous consent. Manager's amendments are especially, but not exclusively, used for large pieces of legislation. Why is it is called the manager's amendment? The person offering in the amendment is the majority or minority Member of Congress in charge of the debate on the bill, the "manager" of the bill.

Markup

Definition

A legislative process for considering and making any recommended adjustments to a piece of legislation prior to moving the legislation forward for a committee vote of passage or defeat.

History

In many cases, when a bill comes before a committee for markup, negotiations have already occurred behind the scenes between members of Congress and interested external organizations, and the chairman of the Committee will introduce a manager's package (an amended version of the original bill set to be marked up) or a bill in the nature of a substitute for the Committee to consider and "markup." When this is the situation, a markup can be brief and primarily offer an opportunity for opening statements for Committee members to be recognized and to explain their position on the legislation.

What it Means

A markup may be the most critical part of the congressional legislative process, as it provides a true test of whether a bill can ultimately pass the House or Senate. It is during the markup process where one can truly learn of a legislator's position (for or against) a bill and what adjustments would be needed to ensure the support of individual committee members.

Medicare Part A

Medicare is a federal program that provides health insurance coverage for people who are age 65 or older. Individuals younger than 65 may qualify if they have certain disabilities or have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). Medicare is comprised of four parts — Parts A, B, C, and D. We have defined each of the four parts individually.

Definition

Medicare Part A pays primarily for inpatient hospital stays, care in skilled nursing facilities (not long-term care), some home health care, and hospice care.

History

Medicare Part A began in 1965 and was enacted at the same time as Part B and Medicaid. At the time, older Americans who did not have health care coverage through their employers, had to either purchase health insurance on their own (which could be expensive) or rely on their families to help pay for their medical care. More information on the history of the Medicare program can be found here.

Financing

Medicare Part A is financed through a payroll tax paid by employers and employees. Part A currently pays out more in claims than it collects in revenue and is projected to become insolvent by the year 2026. In 2018, total expenditures (costs) for the Medicare program were $740.6 billion and total income was $755.7 billion. Each year the independent Medicare Trustees releases a report projecting the solvency of the program. Information on the most recent Trustees' report is available here.

Enrollment

Currently 59.9 million Americans are enrolled in Medicare Part A.

Eligibility

In order to be eligible for Medicare Part A, you (or your spouse) must have worked at least 10 years (40 quarters) in Medicare-covered employment. Some individuals under age 65 may be eligible for Medicare Part A if they are entitled to Social Security (or railroad retirement) disability benefits for at least the previous 25 months or qualify for ESRD benefits. More information on eligibility requirements can be found here. Out-of-Pocket Costs: Beneficiaries enrolled in Part A pay a deductible when they are admitted to the hospital. The amount of the deductible varies from year to year and is calculated to be $1,408 in 2020. This deductible covers beneficiaries' costs for the first 60 days of care within a benefit period. Beneficiaries pay additional fees for hospitalizations longer than 60 days (for more information, see here).

Premium

About 99 percent of individuals who have Part A do not pay a premium. However, some individuals may be able to enroll in Part A and pay a monthly premium: individuals (and spouses) with fewer than 30 quarters (7.5 years) of Medicare-covered employment pay a premium of $458 and individuals (and spouses) with between 30 and 39 quarters of Medicare-covered employment pay $252. (More information is available here.)

Medicare Part B

Medicare is a federal program that provides health insurance coverage for people who are age 65 or older. Individuals younger than 65 may qualify if they have certain disabilities or have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). Medicare is comprised of four parts — Parts A, B, C, and D.

Definition

Medicare Part B primarily pays for care provided by doctors and other health care professionals (like nurse practitioners), outpatient services, durable medical equipment (DME), home health, and some preventive services.

History

Medicare Part B began in 1965 under the same legislation that enacted Medicare Part A and the Medicaid program.

Enrollment

In 2019, 46.4 million Americans were enrolled in Medicare Part B.

Financing

Medicare Part B is financed through general revenues and premiums collected from beneficiaries. Because of the way it is financed, technically Medicare Part B can never be insolvent. However, because the federal government pays 75 percent of the cost of Part B, many policymakers have begun to grow concerned about the increased cost of the program and have proposed ways to reduce these federal expenditures.

Premiums

Medicare beneficiaries pay monthly premiums, which are adjusted each year and account for roughly 25 percent of Part B costs. Currently most beneficiaries pay a monthly premium of $144.60 per month. Individuals with higher incomes pay a higher monthly premium. (More information on Medicare Part B premiums is available here.) Individuals who lack other coverage (generally through a current or former employer) who delay signing up for Part B may be assessed a permanent late enrollment penalty. (More information on the late enrollment penalty is available here.)

Out-of-Pocket Costs

In addition to the monthly premium, beneficiaries have an annual deductible of $198 for 2020. Beneficiaries also are assessed a copayment of 20 percent of the Medicare-approved cost of the service. (More information is available here.)

Medicare Part C

Medicare is a federal program that provides health insurance coverage for people who are age 65 or older. Individuals younger than 65 may qualify if they have certain disabilities or have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). Medicare is comprised of four parts — Parts A, B, C, and D.

Definition

Medicare Part C is otherwise known as "Medicare Advantage" (formerly "Medicare+Choice"). These are private plans that are approved by Medicare to cover all of the services provided by Part A and Part B. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer coverage for items not otherwise covered by Medicare (like hearing aids and eyeglasses).

History

Medicare Advantage began as an alternative to traditional Medicare. Some policymakers believed that private insurance companies would be able to provide beneficiaries with better, more coordinated care at a lower cost to beneficiaries and the federal government. Medicare Advantage plans operated by private insurance companies are available in almost every county in the country. Medicare Advantage plans can be either health maintenance organization (HMO) plans, private fee-for-service (PFFS) plans, or regional or local preferred provider organizations (PPOs). (More information is available here.)

Premiums

Medicare beneficiaries pay a premium to enroll in Medicare Advantage plans; premiums vary depending on the plan offerings in the area. Most Medicare Advantage plans also offer prescription drug coverage (called MA-PD plans). In 2019, the average premium charged for a Medicare Advantage plan offering drug coverage was $ 26.87 per month. Approximately 87 percent of Medicare beneficiaries can choose an MA-PAD plan with a $0 premium (though beneficiaries would still have to pay their Medicare Part B premium). More information is available here.

Enrollment

In 2019, approximately 34 percent of Medicare beneficiaries chose to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan.

Medicare Part D

Medicare is a federal program that provides health insurance coverage for people who are age 65 or older. Individuals younger than 65 may qualify if they have certain disabilities or have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). Medicare is comprised of four parts—Parts A, B, C, and D.

Definition

Medicare Part D is a voluntary benefit that provides outpatient prescription drug coverage to beneficiaries. The Part D benefit is provided by private plans; beneficiaries have the option of choosing either prescription drug coverage as part of their Medicare Advantage plan or as a stand-alone prescription drug plan (PDP) which can be purchased in addition to traditional Medicare (Part A and Part B). Of the 45 million Part D enrollees in 2019, 20.6 million were in PDPs.

History

The Medicare prescription drug benefit was added to Medicare as part of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA). Prior to the passage of the MMA, many Medicare beneficiaries lacked access to prescription drug coverage. Learn more about the history of Part D here.

What it Means

In 2020, the standard benefit structure is as follows: the beneficiary (who does not receive a low-income subsidy) pays 100% of their drug costs until the deductible of $435 is met. Once the deductible is met, in what is called the initial coverage phase, the beneficiary pays 25 percent of the costs of his/her drugs and the plan pays the other 75 percent, up to the initial coverage limit of $4,020 in total drug costs. The beneficiary is now in the coverage gap phase in which, for brand name drugs, enrollees pay 25 percent of drug costs, plans pay 5 percent, and drug manufactures provide a 70 percent discount and for generic drugs enrollees pay 25 percent and plans pay 75 percent of drug costs. The coverage gap phase ends when the beneficiary's drug costs exceed the catastrophic coverage limit of $9,719. At this point, the beneficiary pays 5 percent, the plan pays 15 percent, and Medicare pays 80 percent of the costs for medications. There is no annual limit on out-of-pocket expenses for enrollees. In 2020, the out-of-pocket threshold for reaching catastrophic coverage threshold is $6,350. Learn more about the current benefit here.

Premiums

Medicare Part D premiums vary depending on the beneficiary's plan choice and geography. Some plans, called "enhanced plans" provide greater coverage for prescription drugs, but usually have a higher premium. In 2020, the average Medicare Part D monthly basic premium is estimated to be $30. On average, Medicare beneficiaries have 28 PDPs to choose from for the 2020 plan year. Like Medicare Part B, individuals who lack prescription drug coverage either through a former employer, Medicaid, or some other source, will face a late enrollment penalty if they delay signing up for Part D.

Motion to Proceed to Consider

Definition

A procedural vote taken by the whole Senate on the matter of whether or not to open debate on a bill. This occurs if the entire Senate does not agree to proceed by "unanimous consent."

History

Under Rule 22 of the Rules of the Senate (the cloture rule), a bill must travel a long path to Senate consideration prior to final passage. Most rules can be waived if all Senators agree to a unanimous consent request. If an item is controversial, oftentimes even consequential, or a Senator wishes to filibuster (extend debate) he may withhold consent. Once a bill is filed, it must sit at the Senate desk where the presiding officer reads the bill. After one day and one hour have passed, the Majority leader can file for cloture on the Motion to Proceed to Consider, which is a measure subject to debate and can be filibustered.

Offset

Definition

A funding source used to pay for new government spending, usually comprised of reductions to, or elimination of, other government programs.

What it Means

When Congress passes legislation that costs the government money — with the exception of the annual appropriations bills — they look to find "offsets," or savings from other government programs to "pay for" the new legislation. Sometimes, offsets are colloquially referred to as "pay-fors"— literally, paying for something that the government wants to buy. Finding an offset can be a challenge because every Member of Congress has specific priorities and programs he or she wants to protect and taking funding from one program to pay for another often leads to internal debates between political parties or chambers.

History

Off and on over the past 20 years, Congress has operated under a mechanism called PAYGO, under which any new government spending needed to be offset by savings from (or cuts to) current programs. In 2010 Congress passed a new Pay-As-You-Go Act, thus making PAYGO mandatory. However, Congress will suspend this law or exempt some spending from PAYGO rules; for example to pass legislation for disaster relief, emergency spending to stimulate the economy, or the 2017 tax cut package.

Overseas Contingency Operations

Definition

OCO funding is money set aside in the federal budget for expenses connected to overseas operations such as: crisis response, infrastructure and coalition support for operations in Iraq/Afghanistan, humanitarian assistance in the Middle East and North Africa, and embassy security among other needs abroad. These funds are not subject to limits on discretionary spending.

According to the Congressional Research Service Report report dated September 6, 2019: Congress appropriated $77 billion for OCO in FY 2019, amounting to 5.6% of all discretionary appropriations. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress has appropriated $2 trillion in discretionary budget authority designated as emergency requirements or for Overseas Contingency Operations/Global War on Terrorism (OCO/GWOT) in support of the broad U.S. government response to the 9/11 attacks and for other related international affairs activities. This figure amounts to 9.5% of total discretionary spending during this period.

What it Means

OCO funding is money set aside in the federal budget for expenses connected to overseas operations such as: crisis response, infrastructure and coalition support for operations in Iraq/Afghanistan, humanitarian assistance in the Middle East and North Africa, and embassy security among other needs abroad.

History

Following the terror attacks of 2001, the Bush Administration requested Congress provide specific funds to pursue the "Global War on Terror." Beginning in 2009 the Obama Administration changed from using the "Global War on Terror" terminology to instead employing the nomenclature of "Overseas Contingency Operations" and the funds to support the effort became known as OCO.

Pro Forma Session

Definition

A pro forma session is a short period of time when either the House or Senate is technically in legislative session but when no votes are held and no formal business is typically conducted. It is a Latin term meaning "in form only."

What it Means

Pro forma sessions are authorized by the Constitution, which requires that each House of Congress grant permission to each other if a recess lasts longer than three days. Members of Congress can gavel in and out of the House and Senate galleries to show that either Chamber is still in a pro forma session.

History

Pro forma sessions have become mired in controversy over the years and have been used as a strategy by political parties to restrict a President's ability to make recess appointments to temporarily fill cabinet/political positions. Under the Constitution, the President has the authority to make appointments when Congress is in recess. However, if Congress is in-session (normally conducting daily business and votes or in a pro forma session where business is not being conducted), the President is not supposed to be able to make temporary recess appointments, pocket-veto bills, or call for a special session of Congress. In 2012, the Obama Administration challenged the law and appointments were issued, regardless of the Senate claiming that it was not in recess but otherwise in a pro forma session between recess periods.

Used in a Sentence

Both the House and the Senate held pro forma sessions to block the President from making recess appointments.

Recess

Definition

A recess is a brief break in a legislative session. Recess does not indicate that business is complete; participants simply have a predetermined amount of time off before restarting the session.

What it Means

The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 stipulated that each August, Congress would take a break not fewer than 30 days long between July 31st and Labor Day. At the time, legislative sessions had become very long — in 1963 an entire year-long session ended with only one three-day weekend for a break.

Congress takes several recesses throughout the session, primarily around federal holidays, but the August break is the only one that is legally required. Prior to the start of the summer recess, Congress passes a concurrent resolution stipulating that the House and Senate are conditionally adjourned until a specific date, usually the week after Labor Day. The resolution allows for their return during the period if necessary.

The break is often used by Members of Congress to return to their districts to campaign, meet with constituents in town hall meetings, and vacation. Democratic and Republican party retreats also often take place during this time period. While Congress is not in session, many staff members remain in Washington to prepare for September.

Used in a Sentence

Every August, Congress takes a month-long recess during which Senators and Representatives return to their home states and districts to meet with constituents before finishing the legislative session.

Spending Caps

Definition

Spending caps are limits imposed on the amount of budget authority provided in annual appropriations bills.

History

Spending Caps are a mechanism used by governments to limit the amount of federal spending to avoid creating a deficit and/or adding to their national debt. A major piece of legislation that addressed this issue was H.J. Res. 372, the Balance Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, also known as the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act. The main purpose of the Act was to implement a maximum amount of deficit that the federal government could allow, and over a five year period, decrease that amount until there was no deficit allowed. On August 2, 2011, President Obama signed the Budget Control Act, which placed enforceable spending caps on both defense and nondefense discretionary spending over the next ten years.

Statement of Administration Policy

Definition

Issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Statements of Administration Policy (SAP) are official, written communications outlining the Executive Branch's position on a particular legislative action. SAPs often include an intended course of action if legislation were to pass or a request that a piece of legislation receive debate or a vote.

History

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is tasked with the responsibility of drafting the President's budget. OMB is also responsible for evaluating federal agency practice and procedures to ensure that they are complying with current law and the President's policies. In line with these prerogatives, the administration closely follows legislation as it is debated in Congress. The Office of Legislative Affairs (OLA) collaborates with Congress to express the administration's legislative aims and any problems or disagreements they have with particular pieces of legislation, including possible implementation issues in the future. A Statement of Administration Policy can be used as a tool in the process of negotiation, as it may express disagreements with legislation or threaten a veto to the entire bill. A more controversial alternative are called signing statements. These are comments that Presidents issue as bills are being signed into law, and have been used in the past to express the President's disapproval with a bill he feels must be signed, despite his disagreement with a portion(s) of the text.

Super PAC

Definition

A political action committee (PAC) that can raise unlimited money from corporations, unions, and individuals to be used on items such as TV and radio ads and direct mailings. They differ from traditional PACs, which must adhere to numerous federal regulations and have limits on donation amounts. Super PACs cannot make direct contributions to candidates or coordinate messaging or strategy with campaign officials.

History

The creation of Super PACs was a game changer for federal campaigns. With no limits on contributions, corporations and unions can dominate TV and radio ads for or against a particular candidate. The creation of Super PACs resulted from the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission (FEC), which ruled that the FEC could not prohibit the amount corporations and unions can raise for independent federal campaign expenditures. Politicocredits Eliza Newlin Carney, a Roll Call reporter, for dubbing the term "Super PAC" on June 26, 2010. According to Opensecrets.org, in 2016, 2,393 Super PACs raised more than $1.7 billion dollars and spent more than $1 billion during the election cycle. See more about outside spending by Super PACs here.

Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR)

Definition

The Sustainable Growth Rate was a formula that was supposed to be used to determine Medicare Part B payment rates for physicians and other health professionals.

What It Means

The House of Representative is a "majority rules" chamber. The rules of the House of Representatives are written in a way that allows the majority party to have a lot of control over which bills are considered and how they are considered. Basically, if the majority party leadership doesn't want a bill considered, in all likelihood, it will not be. One of the few mechanisms available to usurp House leadership control is the discharge petition, in which 218 members sign a petition to take a bill out of committee and place it on the House floor for consideration. With 218 signatures needed, the minority party, which by definition has fewer than 218 members, must get some members of the majority party to sign the petition. This is a very difficult hurdle; as such, discharge petitions are almost never successful and are used primarily as a political tactic.

History

In 1997, Congress created the SGR formula in order to help limit spending on Medicare physicians' services. Since 2002, what Medicare spends on physician services has exceeded a SGR formula cap, so physicians have faced payment cuts (also called negative updates). However, for the past decade, Congress has passed a series of short-term fixes (14 of them) to prevent the cuts from taking place, having to find other health care savings to offset the cost of fixing the physician cuts. In April 16, 2015 the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA or "permanent doc fix" was signed into law by President Obama. The measure went into effect in July 2015.

Vote-a-Rama

Definition

A series of stacked votes in short succession.

What It Means

A series of stacked votes in short succession. Senate rules allow for special consideration of amendments during the budget process. After 50 hours of debate on the budget, Senators may bring any remaining amendments, as long as they are germane (relevant to the legislation at hand), to the floor for a vote.

History

Senate rules allow for special consideration of amendments during the budget process. After 50 hours of debate on the budget, Senators may bring any remaining amendments, as long as they are germane (relevant to the legislation at hand), to the floor for a vote. The budget is not subject to filibuster and only 51 votes are needed to pass a measure. When a vote-a-rama starts, Senators are given a few minutes to introduce their amendment and state their case. The opposition is usually then given a short period of time to present their argument. Then the Senate votes; each vote lasts about ten minutes. This process repeats for each amendment presented and ruled germane. Amendments may be filed any time before the vote-a-rama begins, or they may be presented any time before the voting concludes.

Wonk

Definition

An expert or someone steeped in the details of a particular issue area or field, e.g. policy wonk. Sometimes used as a compliment ("She's a real health policy wonk") and sometimes used as an insult to suggest someone is a nerd ("I would never date such a wonk").

What It Means

Washington, DC is filled with wonks - people with deep expertise in specific policy issues, who sometimes speak in a vernacular often not understood by people outside the Beltway. Hence, the need for our Dewonkify™ glossary!

History

According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary the word first appeared in 1954.

Used in a Sentence

"The Bully vs. The Wonk"

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