Proceedings of the U.S. Senate ordinarily waddle along with a kind of elephantine elegance. To state the matter unkindly, the sessions usually are downright dull. But for four days recently, the Senate kicked up its collective heels and had a ball. In a dazzling series of votes, the Senate managed to insult both the State Department and the Soviet Union. Senators haven't had so much fun since the 100th Congress convened 10 months ago.
The object of this merriment was the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1987. By the time the bill passed on Oct. 8, by a cheerful vote of 85 to 8, fewer than 86 floor amendments had been adopted. Some of the amendments are highly desirable amendments and ought to be retained in conference. Others are likely to make it no farther than the round file.
The interesting thing is that this was a bipartisan bashing. North Carolina's Jesse Helms, as ranking minority member of the Foreign Relations Committee, led the boarding party, but he had plenty of company. On one amendment, if you will believe it, Helms was linked cheek to jowl (Helms' jowl, Kerry's cheek) with John F. Kerry of Massachusetts. John Glenn of Ohio, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, Alfonse D'Amato of New York, Charles Grassley of Iowa, Steve Symms of Idaho -- they all got into the act.
During the several days of debate, senators managed to offload a few tons of frustration. As an awed observer once remarked, Republican Helms is the very model of an even-tempered man. Where the Soviet Union is concerned, he stays mad. On the other side of the aisle are Democrats who stay sore at the foreign policies of the Reagan administration. Everybody wants to be secretary of state.
All these pent-up hostilities, by way of example, led to Symms Amendment No. 909. It begins by denouncing Soviet espionage agents for bugging the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. It continues by crying that their ''extensive and insidious'' efforts will require the virtual rebuilding of the structure. It notes that the United States has provided the Soviets with a site in Washington for their embassy so high above sea level (350 feet) that the Soviets can eavesdrop on all our communications. It winds up by directing Secretary of State Shultz to evict the dirty commies from their present location and to negotiate for a new site in Washington ''not more than 90 feet above mean sea level.'' Let 'em exercise their bugs in Foggy Bottom.
If the Symms amendment emerges intact from conference, it will mightily annoy the Kremlin. It will invite certain retaliation from Moscow, and heaven knows where a new U.S. Embassy would have to be erected there. What holes in the ground are left?
The next amendment, identified as Helms Amendment No. 910, is equally desirable and equally provocative. The gentleman from North Carolina wants to prevent abuse of diplomatic immunity, and in this cause he has overwhelming support. By the senator's estimate, an astounding 53,000 foreign nationals somehow qualify as ''diplomats'' in the United States. Most of these visitors behave with grace and punctilio, but a few get involved in truly ugly incidents. Here in Washington, a young woman identified only as ''Holly'' was raped by the son of a Saudi Arabian diplomat. Another woman suffered severe injuries when she was deliberately run down in New York by an Afghan. Both diplomats went scot-free. The record is infuriating.
The Helms amendment would apply to serious crimes committed by persons holding diplomatic immunity. Such offenses would be prosecuted in American courts unless the appropriate foreign minister personally requested that immunity not be waived. In that event, the offender would be declared ''persona non grata'' and immediately expelled. The amendment passed without a dissenting word. Yes, it invites identical measures abroad, but if U.S. representatives commit similar crimes in other nations, they ought to be similarly punished.
Pete Wilson of California won adoption of a bristling amendment to keep the Soviets out of any summit on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Gordon Humphrey of New Hampshire wrote language into the bill that rebukes the State Department for pussyfooting around in Afghanistan. Bob Dole of Kansas and Bill Roth of Delaware united in an amendment to beef up security in our embassies in nations aligned with the Soviet bloc.
All in all, it was a constructive time in the Senate. The boys and girls sent messages to Shultz, Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. We're mad as hell, they said, and we're not going to take it any more.