What is the difference between hard
money and soft money? Or between Medicare and Medicaid? These are just a
few of the many well-used - but often misunderstood - terms in US
Hanging / Pregnant chad
A chad is the small piece of waste paper or card created when a hole is
punched in a ballot.
Chads became famous in the 2000
presidential election, when the results in Florida were so close that a
recount was necessary and electoral officials were forced to examine the
ballot papers to determine voters' intentions.
Some voters had punched their preferences,
but the chad had not fully separated from the ballot (a hanging chad).
In other cases, and indentation had been made in the ballot but it had
not been punched through (a pregnant or dimpled chad).
Money contributed by an individual directly to a particular campaign.
New legislation in 2002 raised the limit
for individual contributions from $1,000 per candidate per federal (presidential
or congressional) election to $2,000.
The first $250 donated to a candidate by
an individual can be matched dollar-for-dollar from federal matching
Limits on state-wide elections vary
according to state laws.
House of Representatives (The
House) The House of Representatives is
the larger of the two houses of Congress.
The 435 members of the House - generally
known as Congressmen and Congresswomen - serve two-year terms, as
compared to the six-year term of senators.
The presiding member, the Speaker of the
House, is elected by a majority vote of the members of the House at the
beginning of each new Congress.
House members each represent
approximately half a million citizens in their "districts". The number
of districts per state is determined each decade by a proportional
allocation based on the federal census.
House Majority leader
The House Majority Leader is the second most powerful member of the
majority party in the House of Representatives.
Unlike the speaker, he or she has no
responsibility for the House as a whole, and focuses purely on advancing
the interests of his or her party - for example, by organising members
to support the party's political priorities.
House Minority Leader
The leader of the minority party in the House of Representatives.
He or she acts as a spokesperson for the
minority party's policy position and organises its legislative strategy.
Registered voters who do not declare a particular party affiliation are
grouped together under the term "independent".
Because most voters registered for a
particular party will vote for that party's candidate, general election
campaigns have tended to focus on winning over these groups.
Nationwide about a third of all voters
consider themselves independent, however some key states have a higher
proportion of independent voters than others. New Hampshire, for example,
traditionally has a large number of independents and as a result has a
reputation for producing unexpected results during its primary elections.
Joint chiefs of staff
The Joint Chiefs are the leading military advisers to the president and
the secretary of defence.
The panel is made up of the chiefs of
staff of the US Army and Air Force, the chief of naval operations and -
in cases involving marine corps issues - the commandant of the marine
The group is headed by a chairman who is
considered a spokesman for the US military as a whole as well as the
president's principal military adviser.
A 2002 campaign finance reform law named after its main sponsors:
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and Wisconsin Democrat Russ
The law is designed to limit the
underground system of fundraising and spending in federal election
campaigns. The law bans "soft money" and restricts "issue ads"
benefiting candidates. These two practices became increasingly common in
elections after the 1974 Buckley vs Valeo Supreme Court decision left
loopholes in campaign disclosure laws and limits on contributions.
Soft money donations are not subject to
federal limits because they technically go to state parties. Issue ads
are commercials financed by interest groups supposedly to promote
causes, but which are in reality thinly disguised plugs for particular
candidates. The law requires the funding of "electioneering
communications" to be made public in the same way that other campaign
spending is disclosed.
Opponents of the law say it violates
First Amendment rights of free speech in political campaigns, but a
Supreme Court decision rejected a challenge to it in December 2003. The
law has angered political activists and pressure groups on both right
and left concerned that their influence in federal elections will be
A federally funded programme administered at state level to provide
medical benefits and healthcare for some low-income people.
Created by amendments to the 1965 Social
Security Act, it applies only to certain categories of people eligible
for welfare programmes.
These include the old, the blind and the
disabled, single-parent families and the children of disabled or
It is up to states to determine matters
of coverage, eligibility and the administration of the programme but
they must conform to broad federal guidelines.
The national health insurance programme for the elderly and the disabled
established in 1965 under an amendment to the Social Security Act.
Medicare breaks down into two parts:
It is designed to help protect people
aged 65 and over from the high costs of healthcare.
It also provides coverage for patients with permanent
kidney failure and people with certain disabilities.