“Sept. 30, the fiscal year ends," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday. "We have to have a continuing resolution to take us forward as we prepare for our omnibus bill, which will take us through the next year."

If your eyes glazed over before getting to the end of that paragraph, you're not alone. The congressional budget process is a sea of jargon that can be hard to navigate. It also comes up regularly; Congress is likely to be debating a budget and trying to avoid a government shutdown for the better part of the rest of 2015.

Lawmakers are expected to pass a short-term budget by Wednesday's deadline, likely narrowly avoiding a potential government shutdown over political sticking points like whether to continue federal funding for the women's health care organization Planned Parenthood. But they might just be putting off a shutdown for a few months; the short-term budget agreement lawmakers are expected to pass this week expires on Dec. 11. And by that point, the House speaker will no longer be an outgoing House speaker with nothing to lose.

That means you have the next two months to get versed in shutdown vocabulary. But it shouldn't take you that long. Below is our clip-and-save dictionary for the shutdown debate.

Appropriations bills


Our founding fathers gave Congress the power of the purse to decide how much each federal agency can spend. Lawmakers do this two ways: 1) Establishing or modifying an agency or program (known as authorization or reauthorization), and 2) Giving the agency or program the funds to carry out its authorization. That's known as appropriations.

A budget is traditionally passed after lawmakers spend the spring and summer appropriating funds for federal agencies divided into 12 main categories — or 12 appropriations bills.

Fiscal year


The 365 days during which a budget starts and stops don't match up with our calendar year. Instead, Congress approves a budget that goes from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. We are currently in fiscal year 2015, and Congress is debating a budget for fiscal year 2016, which begins next week.

Omnibus spending bill


When Congress combines two or more of its appropriations bills into one larger spending bill, it is known as an omnibus spending bill. Doing so allows congressional leaders to pass a budget with fewer votes and, ostensibly, less controversy.

Continuing resolution


An agreement to fund the government at the exact same levels as last year, usually for just a few months.

Passing a continuing resolution is meant to be a last-minute resort if lawmakers can't agree on a full, year-long budget by the Sept. 30 deadline. Prone to run up against deadlines, Congress often relies on at least one continuing resolution every fiscal year before it agrees on a budget. But since 2013, political debates have slowed Congress down even further, and lawmakers have had to pass mostly continuing resolutions to keep the government open.

Congress is currently debating a continuing resolution that will last from Oct. 1 to Dec. 11.

synonyms: CR, stopgap measure, stopgap spending bill, short-term spending bill

Clean continuing resolution


A continuing resolution that makes no substantive changes — politically sensitive or otherwise — to an existing budget.

A continuing resolution that cuts federal funding from women's health care clinic Planned Parenthood would not be considered "clean." Similarly, in 2013, Republicans sought to defund the implementation of Obamacare, but that failed and what resulted was a "clean CR" after two-plus weeks of a shutdown.

(Note: For whatever reason, the opposite of a "clean CR" is not a "dirty CR.")

synonyms: clean CR, clean spending bill, clean funding bill


noun or verb

A procedural move that allows a senator or group of senators to block a bill, amendment or resolution from coming up to a vote. Filibustering is historically done by talking on the Senate floor to prevent regular business from proceeding, but it can technically refer to nearly any procedural tactic to block a bill, including simply threatening a speaking filibuster.

Generally, overcoming a filibuster requires 60 votes — more than the 50 votes required for a normal vote.



This is how a filibuster is ended. It's a procedural move in the Senate that ends debate on a specific bill, amendment or resolution and allows senators to actually vote on said bill, amendment or resolution.

To end debate, senators need those 60 votes. Cloture usually must be "invoked" when at least one senator (but sometimes an entire party) threatens to filibuster a bill they don't like.



Automatic spending cuts on discretionary government programs, which were most recently instituted in 2011 when Congress couldn't agree on a long-term budget. 

Sequestration was meant to act as a disincentive to gridlock and was set to take place in March 2013 if Congress couldn't agree on a budget that cut $4 trillion from the deficit. But Congress has yet to reach a deal to get rid of the sequester, and federal agencies have been forced to comply with automatic spending cuts since then.

Spending caps


When developing sequestration, lawmakers set spending caps that, if reached, would trigger sequestration's automatic spending cuts.

Both parties want to end sequestration, but neither side can agree on which spending caps to lift; Democrats want equal raises for domestic and military spending, while Republicans want to raise only military spending.



How much the federal government spends every year that isn't covered by revenue. It can be reduced by trimming government programs, raising taxes or growing the economy. This is not to be confused with the national debt.



The national debt is simply how much money the United States government has spent that it hasn't taken in, in history. According to the Federal Reserve, the debt currently stands at about $18 trillion, well more than 100 percent of our gross domestic product. The debt is less dependent on annual spending and more intertwined with long-term tax breaks and domestic spending on social welfare programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Debt ceiling


A limit set by Congress on how much the United States can borrow to pay its daily expenses. When the U.S. Treasury nears this ceiling, Congress either has to raise the ceiling or require the United States to stop spending more than it takes in.

Raising the debt ceiling was not always an inherently political topic, since failing to do so could hurt America's standing with its creditors. But in 2011 and again in 2013, conservative lawmakers demanded changes in America's spending habits in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Congress raised the ceiling just in time, but the 2011 failure to raise the debt ceiling in a timely fashion caused one of the three main credit-rating agencies, Standard & Poor's, to downgrade America's credit rating for the first time in history. 

The deadline to raise the ceiling is not always specific, since it is based on Treasury's estimates of when it will reach the limit in real time. The government is expected to reach that cap sometime in mid-November or early December, possibly around the Dec. 11 deadline Congress has set for itself to pass a budget.