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Martin P. Paone: Senate Democratic Cloakroom Staff; Minority and Majority Secretary

Martin P. Paone
Martin P. Paone Senate Historical Office

“It's human nature. Sort of like college students cramming for exams.”

Paone and Senate Historian Donald Ritchie discuss the influx of legislative activity in the Senate that tends to occur at the end of the final session of every Congress.

PAONE: You don't have time to stand out there and verbally read out loud every single bill and amendment you're passing. There are too many of them. I mean, at the closing days of a session, especially at the end of a Congress, floor staff will clear for passage 50 or 60 bills a day. We will even break it up by committees because it just gets too busy. The pace and the pressure gets white hot. You don't have time. Usually it's like everybody is doing everything. Helping each other do it. But that doesn't work at the end when you have to say, "Okay, if there's anything that comes in from the HELP committee, you take it. If anything comes in from Finance, I'll take it." So rather than trying to keep track of the other person's issues, because there are too many of them, you've got too many of your own to keep track of. Meanwhile, you're also working on whatever's pending on the floor and making sure you're keeping track of that and, you know, write-ups and descriptions of their votes, et cetera. So at the end, you divide it up by each person gets five, six, seven committees, maybe more. And you're responsible for those in trying to see if those bills are going to clear. The committees are constantly, then, funneling requests to you because everybody's trying to get their bills done before they die at the end of a congress. So you're constantly getting requests being sent down that you're then having to put in, if you're in the majority, do a script for, make sure there's copies of them and to give to the minority so that they can then try to clear them. That's just the way the place operates. If they don't think that this is a rational way of operating, then it's because offices are being derelict in their duty in trying to keep up with the hotline. But that's just the way it is.

RITCHIE: The diary of Senator William Maclay in the First Congress says that in the last days of that Congress he was just overwhelmed by bills. He complained that he didn't have enough time to read everything that was coming through.

PAONE: Sure.

RITCHIE: That was the First Congress. It seems like that's happened constantly since then. What is it about the calendar that winds up bunching everything up at the end of a session?

PAONE: It's human nature. Sort of like college students cramming for exams. You let the whole semester go and then the last two weeks, you try to study as much as you can before your exam. It's rare that you come across the student that does his work every week in an orderly, week to week fashion. [Laughing] And senators are no different. You'd like to think that you get better as you age, but you don't. So those last weeks of a Congress are usually extremely hectic.


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