(WASHINGTON) — With Sen. Ted Cruz’s recent 21-hour speech on the Senate floor behind us, and the resolution to keep the government funded facing an uncertain fate in the House of Representatives, it’s clear the season for political wrangling is upon us.
Whether it’s the negotiations over the Affordable Care Act (better known as “Obamacare”), raising the debt ceiling, or keeping the government running, members of Congress, pundits and administration officials have been throwing all sorts of terms around that even some experienced Capitol Hill hands need a dictionary to figure out.
To help you sort through all the inside-the-Beltway jargon, ABC News has compiled a concise guide of key words so that you can follow all the action (or inaction) in our nation’s capitol like an insider:
CONTINUING RESOLUTION: One way for Congress to avoid a government shutdown while still working out their differences on how to appropriate federal money is to pass a continuing resolution. A continuing resolution is passed by the House and Senate to continue funding the government (historically for short periods of time) at the same levels as the previous fiscal year until a formal spending bill deal can be reached. The continuing resolution can go into effect once it is passed by both chambers of Congress and has been signed by the president.
CLEAN CR: A clean continuing resolution is prohibited from containing any special policy provisions or riders. At times, members of either party will try to insert additional legislation to a continuing resolution in an effort to pass an initiative that likely wouldn’t garner enough support on its own. To the party inserting the added measure, it’s a means of gaining leverage on budget negotiations. The other party, however, will often view this as a form of hostage taking.
CLOTURE: When debates take place in the Senate, usually over pending legislation or presidential nominees, senators may attempt to put the legislation or nominee up for a vote by filing for cloture. If the Senate votes for cloture by a required 60-vote majority, debate on the given bill or nominee is limited to no more than 30 hours. Once the 30 hours of debate is over, the Senate must give the bill or nominee a final up or down vote.
INDIVIDUAL MANDATE: The individual mandate is a key component of the Affordable Care Act. Under the individual mandate, most Americans are required to obtain health insurance. Health insurance can be obtained through means including, but not limited to, an individual’s employer-sponsored plan, a government-sponsored plan or individual market plans. Some sectors of the population, such as those who are incarcerated or adhere to strict religious guidelines, are exempt from the coverage requirement. Individuals who meet certain income, cultural, or residential based criteria may also be exempt from the mandate. Otherwise, individuals or families who don’t comply with the mandate may be fined a penalty based on how many people are in their given household, or their household’s income. Some Republicans would like to delay the mandate’s implementation by one year, which the Obama administration has already extended to large corporations required to provide its workers with health insurance.
MEDICAL DEVICE TAX: Another component of the 2010 Affordable Care Act is a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices that would raise an estimated $20 billion from 2013-2019. Proponents of the tax say that it’s necessary to be able to effectively fund and implement the law. Opponents of the tax, however, say that it will stifle innovation and negatively impact employers. Either way, as more Americans obtain health insurance as a result of the law, the number of medical devices produced is expected to increase due to heightened demand for such products.
DEBT CEILING: Otherwise known as the debt limit, this is the amount of money the United States is allowed to borrow in order to pay for existing expenses such as Medicare and Social Security benefits, military salaries, tax refunds and interest on the national debt. Congress must authorize raising the debt ceiling, and it has always done so. Republicans who are weary of increasing spending argue that some budget cuts should be made in order to secure their vote on raising the debt ceiling, and that during past negotiations, such cuts have been made.
DEFAULT: Default is what would happen if Congress refused to raise the debt ceiling and fund its existing legal obligations. Since the United States has never defaulted, it’s not entirely certain what would happen if it did. Many fear, however, that defaulting could create mass fear and uncertainty in the financial markets, with the result being a financial crisis with unknown magnitudes.
SEQUESTRATION: Since Congress was unable to strike a deal that would cut $1.2-1.5 trillion from the deficit, across the board mandatory and discretionary spending cuts, known as sequestration, went into effect this year. Deep cuts to the Defense Department as well as some social welfare programs like Head Start were made as a result of the sequester. Congress had a window of 13 months before the cuts were to take place to make a deal, but such a deal was not reached. The cuts will continue to go into effect unless Congress can reach a deal that would effectively repeal or replace those cuts.
BUDGET CONTROL ACT: In order to end the possibility of not raising the debt ceiling in 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act. Due to the Act, $1 trillion in spending was automatically cut. In addition, Congress was tasked with reducing $1.2-1.5 trillion from the deficit through a perceived combination of spending cuts and revenue increases. A “super committee” comprised of three Democrats and Republicans from both chambers was formed, but failed to reach a final deal that would determine a second set of cuts for the president’s second debt limit increase. What’s notable is that the super committee couldn’t reach an agreement, even with the knowledge that not doing so would lead to drastic and automatic spending cuts across the federal government.
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