Quick Definitions

In-depth discussions of politics and policy tend to involve a lot of semi-technical jargon. This page is going to be a glossary of definitions of the terms and abbreviations that I use in my blog. Refer here if you see a word or random bunch of letters you are not familiar with in one of my posts.

ACA– “Affordable Care Act.” This is the health reform law signed by President Obama in 2010. This law aims to expand health insurance coverage to nearly every American and to reduce health care spending in the US. It has been the subject of intense controversy since it was introduced in 2009, especially one provision known as the “individual mandate.” (see below)

CBO- “Congressional Budget Office.” This is the non-partisan office that “scores” the cost of the bills proposed by Congress. Its independent analysis of our laws and policies are  generally respected by those on both sides of the aisle.

The Debt Limit– Also known as the “debt ceiling.” This is the arbitrary, statutory limit on how much debt the US government can issue. If Congress passes a budget that has less revenue than expenditures, it is deficit spending. If the deficit is going to be so high that it will surpass the debt limit, Congress must raise the limit or else it will default on its debt. The debt limit has been raised about once a year for the past decade.

The Democratic Party– The Democratic party generally works to implement progressive legislation. They are strong defenders of the social safety net and advocate higher taxes on richer Americans. Their political base is among women, blacks, Latinos, the LGBT community and the young. They are strongest in America’s urban and industrial areas. Prominent members: President Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.

GDP- “gross domestic product.” A country’s GDP is the sum of all the goods, services and investments created in a country in a given year.  It is essentially a measure of the size of a nation’s economy. People often also refer to per capita GDP which is simply GDP divided by the number of people in a country, or what each individual makes on average every year. Sectors of the economy can be measured by how much of the economy they make up. For example, if government spending is 20% of GDP, then 20% of the goods, services, and investments in the economy in that year came from the government.

Gerrymandering- This is the process by which politicians draw district lines in order to favor one party or another. Typically, people think of voters as choosing their representatives, but through gerrymandering, representatives choose the people that will be electing them. Successive decades of gerrymandering have made it so that most Congressmen never fear being voted out of office, except by members of their own party in the pre-election primary. As a result, most Congressmen are on the extremes of the political spectrum.

GOP– “Grand Old Party” or the Republican Party.

The House of Representatives- The “lower house” of the United States legislature. Its 435 seats are apportioned roughly equally by population across all states of the union. Its members are elected every two years in a first-past-the-post system, as are nearly all elected positions in the United States. Because of gerrymandering, most of the seats in the House are either solidly Democratic or solidly Republican and they seldom have competitive elections. Elections are won or lost in a few dozen marginal seats that can switch back and forth between the parties. Bills in the House need only a majority of votes to be approved.

Individual mandate– This is the provision in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (see above) which would require all Americans to sign up for a health insurance plan or pay a tax penalty. Originally developed by Republicans, the mandate is  intended to solve the “free rider” problem  whereby people use health care services and then do not pay for them.

Progressive Taxes- Progressive taxes draw a greater percentage of revenue from those who have a greater ability to pay. For example, income taxes in the United States are levied at a higher percentage against the wealthy than against the poor.

Regressive Taxes- Regressive taxes draw a greater percentage of revenue from those who have less ability to pay. For example, in the United States sales taxes, payroll taxes, property taxes and excise taxes are all methods  of collecting tax which affect the poor much more than the rich, as a percentage of their income.

The Republican Party– Republicans generally work to implement conservative legislation. They are generally hawkish and advocate a strong national defense. They are opposed to taxes on the rich. Their political base is among whites, males, seniors, and evangelical Christians. They are primarily located in rural America and affluent suburbs. Prominent members: both Presidents Bush, Ronald Reagan, Mitt Romney.

The Senate- The Senate is the “upper house” of the United States legislature. All bills must pass both the Senate and the House of Representatives and be signed by the president to become law. The Senate is made up of 100 members, 2 from each state who are elected to serve 6 year terms. Senators are chosen at-large by the voters of each state. In the modern Senate (as opposed to the first 200 years the Senate was in operation), all bills, except for some types of spending bills, must have 60 votes to pass into law.

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