Dewonkify – Hastert Rule

Term: Hastert Rule

Definition: An informal governing principle used by Republican Speakers of the House of Representatives since the 1990s to only allow bills to come up for a vote on the House floor that have support from the “the majority of the majority” of Members of Congress. In practice, if Speaker Boehner follows the Hastert Rule it would mean that he would not bring legislation for a vote unless it would have the support of the majority of the current House majority party, the Republicans.

Used In a Sentence:  “That’s what the Hastert rule is really about, Feehery, now a lobbyist and consultant, told me recently — political survival. It’s just common sense: The speaker is elected by a majority vote of his caucus; if he does things a majority of his caucus doesn’t like, they can vote him out.” From “Even the Aide Who Coined the Hastert Rule Says the Hastert Rule Isn’t Working,” by Molly Ball, The Atlantic, July 21, 2013

History: According to John Feehery, the staffer who coined the phrase, former Speaker Dennis Hastert is often credited with inventing the rule but Newt Gingrich, who preceded him as Speaker, followed it as well.

Why It’s Relevant: Following the Hastert Rule makes it is very difficult to have legislative successes if the majority caucus is divided. Speaker Boehner has invoked the Hastert Rule during the recent fiscal debates leading up to the current government shutdown.  Some suggest that the House of Representatives could pass clean (no added legislative language or provisions) legislation to reopen the government or raise the debt ceiling because most of the Democrats and 20 or so of the Republicans would vote for it, giving it enough votes to pass.  However, bringing that legislation up would violate the Hastert Rule since at this point it would not have the support of the majority of the Republicans (the majority party).

Repost: Dewonkify – Debt Ceiling

This dewonkify was originally posted on Capitol Health Record on January 15, 2013.

Word:  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.

Used in a sentence: “After the Debt-Ceiling Breach: What Day 1 in Default America Might Look Like

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, click here.)

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, causing it to default on its debts and resulting in significant domestic and international economic disruption.

Dewonkify – Furlough

The Word: Furlough

Definition: Temporary unpaid leave

Used In A Sentence: “Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says Pentagon and administration lawyers are looking for ways to expand the number of Defense Department civilians who are exempt from furloughs, amid worries that the government shutdown is damaging U.S. credibility among its international allies.” From “Hagel: Pentagon looking to exempt more workers from shutdown furloughs,” by the Associated Press, published in the Washington Post, Tuesday, October 1

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. Additionally, earlier this year, many federal agencies furloughed some of their staff a few days during the year as part of cost-cutting measures following the implementation of sequestration (across-the-board federal funding cuts contained in the Budget Control Act). 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.”

Dewonkify – Anomaly

The Word: 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.

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.

Why It’s Relevant: As the end of fiscal year (FY) 2013 nears, it is looking likely that a CR will be needed at least for part of FY 2014. In preparation for a CR, last week the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) sent their list of anomalies to Capitol Hill.

Dewonkify – Health Insurance Exchanges

The Word:  Health Insurance Exchanges

Definition:  Health insurance exchanges (often referred to as “exchanges”) will be marketplaces where individuals and employers can purchase comprehensive health insurance.  Health insurance exchanges will be available in every state beginning January 1, 2014.

Used in a sentence:  “Aetna cut its rates by 5 percent for its small group plans on the D.C. exchange, the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority said on Tuesday.” – Politico Pulse, Jason Millman, July 3, 2013.

Background:  The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created new health insurance exchanges.  Each state must 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).  Approximately one half of states have decided to operate their own state-based health insurance exchanges.  Here is a list 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).

Dewonkify – Spending Caps

The Word: Spending Caps

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

Used In A Sentence: “The Democratic-led appropriations panel added $91 billion to the spending “cap” called for under current law, setting out on a collision course with the GOP-dominated House, which has opted to stick within the spending limits mandated by Washington’s inability to follow up the 2011 law with another deficit-reduction deal.” From “Senate Dems Ignore Budget Limit, Add $91B To Spending Cap,” Associated Press, June 20, 2013.

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. In the 112th Congress (2011-2012), S. 245, the Commitment to American Prosperity Act, was introduced and would have amended the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act to enact a spending cap of 20.6 percent of the national gross domestic product (GDP). The bill died at the end of the 112th Congress.

Dewonkify – Filibuster

The Word: 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% of members to vote in favor of “cloture” to bring legislation up for consideration.  The House can cut off debate with a simple majority vote.

Used in a Sentence: “Senate leaders reached a deal on Tuesday morning to preserve the filibuster in exchange for Senate confirmation of President Obama’s long-sought first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as well as other stalled nominees.” from “Senators Reach Agreement to Avert Fight Over Filibuster,” by Jonathan Weisman, New York Times, July 16, 2013

History:  The word “filibuster” is derived from the Spanish term filibustero which means “freebooting” and the Dutch word vrijbuiter meaning “pirate.”

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post walks through history of the filibuster and the increasing frequency with which it has been used in his May 15, 2012 article, “The History of the Filibuster in One Graph.”

Dewonkify – Caucus

The Word: 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.

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.

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.”

Dewonkify – Inside the Beltway

The Word/Phrase: 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.

Used in a Sentence: “Verizon’s quick response has more to do with its brand reputation with customers and inside the Beltway than liability, sources said.” From “Verizon on offense behind the scenes,” by Anna Palmer, Politico, June 6, 2013.

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.”

Dewonkify – CBO Score

The word: “Score” or “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.”

Used in a sentence:  ”Sen. Hatch agreed that the reduced CBO score provided a significant opportunity to address the SGR and that Congress needed to act quickly saying, ‘[W]e know from previous years that the CBO score has a tendency to fluctuate.’”  “Senate Finance Committee Holds SGR Hearing and Asks Providers for Specific Recommendations,” American Association of Medical Colleges, May 17, 2013

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:,, and