Politics: Key Terms and People

online header people and facts

Key Terms:

Congressional District
The region represented by one member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Los Altos and Mountain View are in California’s 18th Congressional district, and are represented by Anna Eshoo.

Filibuster
When a Senator speaks and holds the floor in the Senate for as long as possible during a debate. The goal is to block a bill from passing by not allowing it to get voted on. In recent years, the rules of the filibuster have been the subject of controversy.

Lobbying
The process of attempting to influence the view, position or vote of a politician. A Lobby or Lobbyist refers to a group or individual that argues for a particular cause, position or group of people in the government.

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)
A set of health care reforms passed in 2010 that attempts to improve the quality and lower the costs of healthcare while improving access for many uninsured people. It has been a point of ongoing controversy, as some see it as too expensive to carry out and a breach of personal freedom. Others see it as a necessary expansion of the social safety net, alongside programs like social security, Medicare, Medicaid and disability benefits.

Tea Party Movement
The “Tea Party” is not an actual political party, but a group of people that advocate reducing spending and taxes. There is no central structure, so many different offshoots have different agendas. Tea Party members are generally members of the Republican Party, and have strongly conservative ideology.
Deficit: In the context of politics, a deficit is when a government spends more money than it takes in through taxes, and must borrow money to pay for that expenditure. The total federal debt is roughly the sum of all past deficits (or surpluses), minus how much we have since repaid.

Government Shutdown
When the executive branch shuts down non-essential programs because Congress doesn’t extend funding. When it occurred earlier this year, federal agencies like the Department of Education, the Department of Defense, NASA and many others furloughed a combined total of approximately 800,000 employees and sent them on leave which they got paid for once they returned.

Budget Sequestration
When automatic spending cuts, which have been agreed upon given certain conditions, are triggered. “The Sequester” refers to when sweeping spending cuts came into effect in March of 2013 after Congress failed to pass a new budget.

Debt Ceiling
A limit on the amount of debt the U.S. Treasury can accumulate. If the debt ceiling is reached and not raised shortly thereafter, there is a risk that the Treasury will need to default on the federal debt, which would likely have drastic ripple effects throughout the U.S. and global economy.

Continuing Resolution
An agreement to continue using the most recently passed budget instead of drawing up and passing a new budget, effectively postponing debate on the issue to a later date. This was what ended the recent government shutdown.

Key People:

Senate Leadership
The Majority and Minority Leaders are two U.S. Senators elected by the other senators in their respective parties to represent that party in the senate and be the primary spokesperson for that party. Their primary duties are to manage and schedule the legislative and executive agendas in the Senate. Harry Reid is the Senate Majority Leader, meaning he is the representative for the Democratic Party, which currently holds a majority in the Senate. Mitch McConnell is the Senate Minority leader, representing the Republican Party.

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House Leadership
The Speaker of the House acts to represent the entire House of Representatives, and is nearly always held by the majority party, as he or she is elected by his or her fellow representatives. Every Speaker in the last 50 years has been the House Majority leader at the time that the previous Speaker stepped down. The current Speaker is John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio. Much like the Senate leadership, the Majority and Minority leaders act as the spokespeople for their respective parties. The Republican party currently holds the majority in the house; The Majority Leader is Eric Cantor from Virginia, and the Minority Leader is Nancy Pelosi from California.

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