Below are the answers to some frequently asked questions:

Q. How do I find my elected leaders?


To find your Congressmen, you can refer to the House and Senate websites.

For your House Representative, please click and insert your zip code in the top left of the page.

For your Senator, please click and search by state in the top right corner.

While your business or home may be located in one Congressional district, please remember that your railroad may span over several.

If you have questions on how to contact your Congressmen or which districts you or your railroad are in, please contact Ashley Bosch ( at 202-638-7790.

Q. What should I say when contacting my Congressmen?


First and foremost, you should be polite and courteous when contacting your elected officials. Chances are slim that you will be put through directly to your Congressman. If this is the case, ask to speak with the staffer who is responsible for railroads. The best ways to contact Congressional offices are by phone, fax and email. You can find these numbers in your ASLRRA Congressional Directory or by calling Ashley Bosch (202-638-7790).

If you know someone in the Congressional office, it is always best to start at the top. Those of you involved in the marketing of your company know that a direct relationship is much more effective than sending unsolicited mail.

Always state your name, company and the purpose of your call. Because of the high volume of calls that come into a Congressional office on a daily basis, your call is more likely to be answered if you are a constituent of that particular Congressman. If the staffer of Congressman you are trying to talk to is not there, leave a message stating your name, company and purpose for the call. You may request that person call you back or just give your concerns via voicemail.

  • Do not use industry lingo:  "Class I", "Class III", "Class 2 track", "excepted", "ballast", "shipper", "MoW", and many others are all terms of art heavily laden with specific connotations.  Avoid relying on them, and use plain English instead.  Do not talk past your audience.  If you must use a term of art briefly explain what it means.
  • Be patient and courteous:  Do NOT talk down to Congressmen or staff - no matter what.  Expect action on their part, but do so with reasonable patience.  Avoid condescending remarks at all times.  Phrases like "my taxes pay your salary" are no more likely to garner a co-sponsor than to get you out of a speeding ticket - never say such things.
  • Stick to the message:  Do not address unrelated issues unless you are specifically asked about them - always seek to say on message. 
  • Be clear:  Make it clear what you are asking:  You want them to co-sponsor our tax credit bill, or, you want them to vote yes on bill 123.

You are not expected to know every question they ask you. If they need the answers to more technical questions, please have them contact Adam Nordstrom (

Q. What does (insert congressional term here) mean?


There are many terms and definitions that are used by our legislative branch and understanding them can be a difficult task. Below are some of the common terms used by the House and Senate during the process of making our laws.  For a complete list of terms and definitions, please click on the link provided.

act - Legislation  which has passed both chambers of Congress in identical form, been signed into law by the President, or passed over his veto, thus becoming law. Technically, this term also refers to a bill that has been passed by one house and engrossed (prepared as an official copy).

amendment - A proposal to alter the text of a pending bill or other measure by striking out some of it, by inserting new language, or both. Before an amendment becomes part of the measure, the Senate must agree to it.

appropriation - The provision of funds, through an annual appropriations act or a permanent law, for federal agencies to make payments out of the Treasury for specified purposes. The formal federal spending process consists of two sequential steps: authorization and then appropriation.

bill - The principal vehicle employed by lawmakers for introducing their proposals (enacting or repealing laws, for example) in the Senate. Bills are designated S. 1, S. 2, and so on depending on the order in which they are introduced. They address either matters of general interest ("public bills") or narrow interest ("private bills"), such as immigration cases and individual claims against the Federal government.

cloture - The only procedure by which the Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter, and thereby overcome a filibuster. Under the cloture rule (Rule XXII), the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours, but only by vote of three-fifths of the full Senate, normally 60 votes.

committee - Subsidiary organization of the Senate established for the purpose of considering legislation, conducting hearings and investigations, or carrying out other assignments as instructed by the parent chamber.

conference committee - A temporary, ad hoc panel composed of House and Senate conferees which is formed for the purpose of reconciling differences in legislation that has passed both chambers. Conference committees are usually convened to resolve bicameral differences on major and controversial legislation.

conference report - The compromise product negotiated by the conference committee. The "conference report," which is printed and available to Senators, is submitted to each chamber for its consideration, such as approval or disapproval

enacted - Once legislation has passed both chambers of Congress in identical form, been signed into law by the President, become law without his signature, or passed over his veto, the legislation is enacted.

filibuster - Informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions.

floor amendment - An amendment offered by an individual Senator from the floor during consideration of a bill or other measure, in contrast to a committee amendment.

floor leaders - The Majority Leader and Minority Leader are elected by their respective party conferences to serve as the chief Senate spokesmen for their parties and to manage and schedule the legislative and executive business of the Senate. By custom, the Presiding Officer gives the floor leaders priority in obtaining recognition to speak on the floor of the Senate

"lame duck" session - When Congress (or either chamber) reconvenes in an even-numbered year following the November general elections to consider various items of business. Some lawmakers who return for this session will not be in the next Congress. Hence, they are informally called "lame duck" members participating in a "lame duck" session

markup - The process by which congressional committees and subcommittees debate, amend, and rewrite proposed legislation.

pocket veto - The Constitution grants the President 10 days to review a measure passed by the Congress. If the President has not signed the bill after 10 days, it becomes law without his signature. However, if Congress adjourns during the 10-day period, the bill does not become law.

pro forma session - A brief meeting (sometimes only several seconds) of the Senate in which no business is conducted. It is held usually to satisfy the constitutional obligation that neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other.

quorum - The number of Senators that must be present for the Senate to do business. The Constitution requires a majority of Senators (51) for a quorum. Often, fewer Senators are actually present on the floor, but the Senate presumes that a quorum is present unless the contrary is shown by a roll call vote or quorum call.

recess - A temporary interruption of the Senate's (or a committee's) business. Generally, the Senate recesses (rather than adjourns) at the end of each calendar day.

roll call vote  - A vote in which each Senator votes "yea" or "nay" as his or her name is called by the Clerk, so that the names of Senators voting on each side are recorded. Under the Constitution, a roll call vote must be held if demanded by one-fifth of a quorum of Senators present, a minimum of 11.

subcommittee - Subunit of a committee established for the purpose of dividing the committee's workload. Recommendations of a subcommittee must be approved by the full committee before being reported to the Senate.

veto - The procedure established under the Constitution by which the President refuses to approve a bill or joint resolution and thus prevents its enactment into law. A regular veto occurs when the President returns the legislation to the house in which it originated. The President usually returns a vetoed bill with a message indicating his reasons for rejecting the measure. The veto can be overridden only by a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House.

voice vote - A vote in which the Presiding Officer states the question, then asks those in favor and against to say "Yea" or "Nay," respectively, and announces the result according to his or her judgment. The names or numbers of Senators voting on each side are not recorded.

vote - Unless rules specify otherwise, the Senate may agree to any question by a majority of Senators voting, if a quorum is present. The Chair puts each question by voice vote unless the "yeas and nays" are requested, in which case a roll call vote occurs.

whips - Assistants to the floor leaders who are also elected by their party conferences. The Majority and Minority Whips (and their assistants) are responsible for mobilizing votes within their parties on major issues. In the absence of a party floor leader, the whip often serves as acting floor leader.

yeas and nays - A Senator who wants a roll call vote on a pending question asks for the "yeas and nays" on the question. The request will be granted if seconded by one-fifth of a quorum, but this action does not bring debate to an end; it only means that whenever debate does end, a roll call vote will occur.

Q. How does a bill become a law?


Taken from Project Vote Smart

1st  - 

Legislation is Introduced - Any member can introduce a piece of legislation

House - Legislation is handed to the clerk of the House or placed in the hopper.

Senate - Members must gain recognition of the presiding officer to announce the introduction of a bill during the morning hour. If any senator objects, the introduction of the bill is postponed until the next day.

  • The bill is assigned a number. (e.g. HR 1 or S 1)
  • The bill is labeled with the sponsor's name.
  • The bill is sent to the Government Printing Office (GPO) and copies are made.
  • Senate bills can be jointly sponsored.
  • Members can cosponsor the piece of Legislation.

2nd  - 

Committee Action - The bill is referred to the appropriate committee by the Speaker of the House or the presiding officer in the Senate. Most often, the actual referral decision is made by the House or Senate parliamentarian. Bills may be referred to more than one committee and it may be split so that parts are sent to different committees. The Speaker of the House may set time limits on committees. Bills are placed on the calendar of the committee to which they have been assigned. Failure to act on a bill is equivalent to killing it. Bills in the House can only be released from committee without a proper committee vote by a discharge petition signed by a majority of the House membership (218 members).

Committee Steps:

Comments about the bill's merit are requested by government agencies.

Bill can be assigned to subcommittee by Chairman.

Hearings may be held.

Subcommittees report their findings to the full committee.

Finally there is a vote by the full committee - the bill is "ordered to be reported."

A committee will hold a "mark-up" session during which it will make revisions and additions. If substantial amendments are made, the committee can order the introduction of a "clean bill" which will include the proposed amendments. This new bill will have a new number and will be sent to the floor while the old bill is discarded. The chamber must approve, change or reject all committee amendments before conducting a final passage vote.

After the bill is reported, the committee staff prepares a written report explaining why they favor the bill and why they wish to see their amendments, if any, adopted. Committee members who oppose a bill sometimes write a dissenting opinion in the report. The report is sent back to the whole chamber and is placed on the calendar.

In the House, most bills go to the Rules committee before reaching the floor. The committee adopts rules that will govern the procedures under which the bill will be considered by the House. A "closed rule" sets strict time limits on debate and forbids the introduction of amendments. These rules can have a major impact on whether the bill passes. The rules committee can be bypassed in three ways: 1) members can move rules to be suspended (requires 2/3 vote) 2) a discharge petition can be filed 3) the House can use a Calendar Wednesday procedure.

3rd - 

Floor Action

Legislation is placed on the Calendar

House: Bills are placed on one of four House Calendars. They are usually placed on the calendars in the order of which they are reported yet they don't usually come to floor in this order - some bills never reach the floor at all. The Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader decide what will reach the floor and when. (Legislation can also be brought to the floor by a discharge petition.)

Senate: Legislation is placed on the Legislative Calendar. There is also an Executive calendar to deal with treaties and nominations. Scheduling of legislation is the job of the Majority Leader. Bills can be brought to the floor whenever a majority of the Senate chooses.


House: Debate is limited by the rules formulated in the Rules Committee. The Committee of the Whole debates and amends the bill but cannot technically pass it. Debate is guided by the Sponsoring Committee and time is divided equally between proponents and opponents. The Committee decides how much time to allot to each person. Amendments must be germane to the subject of a bill - no riders are allowed. The bill is reported back to the House (to itself) and is voted on. A quorum call is a vote to make sure that there are enough members present (218) to have a final vote. If there is not a quorum, the House will adjourn or will send the Sergeant at Arms out to round up missing members.

Senate: debate is unlimited unless cloture is invoked. Members can speak as long as they want and amendments need not be germane - riders are often offered. Entire bills can therefore be offered as amendments to other bills. Unless cloture is invoked, Senators can use a filibuster to defeat a measure by "talking it to death."

Vote - the bill is voted on. If passed, it is then sent to the other chamber unless that chamber already has a similar measure under consideration. If either chamber does not pass the bill then it dies. If the House and Senate pass the same bill then it is sent to the President. If the House and Senate pass different bills they are sent to Conference Committee. Most major legislation goes to a Conference Committee.

4th  -

Conference Committee

Members from each house form a conference committee and meet to work out the differences. The committee is usually made up of senior members who are appointed by the presiding officers of the committee that originally dealt with the bill. The representatives from each house work to maintain their version of the bill.

If the Conference Committee reaches a compromise, it prepares a written conference report, which is submitted to each chamber.

The conference report must be approved by both the House and the Senate.

5th  - 

The President - the bill is sent to the President for review.

A bill becomes law if signed by the President or if not signed within 10 days and Congress is in session.

If Congress adjourns before the 10 days and the President has not signed the bill then it does not become law ("Pocket Veto.")

If the President vetoes the bill it is sent back to Congress with a note listing his/her reasons. The chamber that originated the legislation can attempt to override the veto by a vote of two-thirds of those present. If the veto of the bill is overridden in both chambers then it becomes law.

6th  -

The Bill Becomes A Law - once a bill is signed by the President or his veto is overridden by both houses it becomes a law and is assigned an official number.



Your Washington Team is available to help prepare you to contact your representatives. If you have any questions, please contact Adam Nordstrom (, Keith Hartwell ( or Ashley Bosch ( by e-mail or at 202-638-7790.