Sen. David H. Pryor (D-Ark.) rose on the Senate floor yesterday to discuss a peculiar creature that surfaces only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, spends hours in aimless swarming and likes to go bump in the night.
It was no Halloween tale. Pryor was describing the United States Senate at work.
Frustrated by the Senate's slow and cumbersome ways, Pryor did a little research on how "the world's greatest deliberative body" actually spends its time.
The results, he told his colleagues, are "astounding."
Since the opening of the 99th Congress nine months ago, Pryor found, the Senate has spent 247 hours, or 23 percent of its time, in quorum calls, a device meant to bring a majority to the floor for a vote but generally used by senators when they want to avoid doing anything.
The Senate spent another 100 hours, or 11 percent of its time, in roll calls, with most of the time devoted to waiting for senators to arrive on the floor, consult with their colleagues and then answer with a simple yes or no.
More than one-third of the roll calls lasted more than 15 minutes; one took more than an hour.
Put another way, figuring the time on an eight-hour-day basis, the Senate held six weeks worth of quorum calls and 2 1/2 weeks worth of roll calls.
Together, quorum calls and roll calls add up to about one-third of the time the Senate has spent in session since January.
Moreover, said Pryor, of the 258 roll call votes taken since the start of the session, only six occurred on Mondays and only 31 on Fridays -- solid evidence that the "Tuesday-through-Thursday Club" in still in command of the Senate.
As for the Senate bumping to life in the night, Pryor reported that 74 roll call votes, more than one-quarter of the total, occurred after 6 p.m.
By contrast, only 26 occurred before noon.
Pryor had several suggestions for perking up the Senate's pace, including a limitation on the length of quorum calls, curtailment of delaying tactics on procedural moves and new rules to require a germaneness test for amendments.
In a less serious vein, he suggested that the Senate simply declare Mondays and Fridays as official holidays since nothing of consequence gets done on those days anyway.