WASHINGTON, DC—Members of the 104th U.S. Congress were baffled Monday, their imaginations taxed beyond all reasonable limits by a mind-bending M.C. Escher poster.

Representatives Charles Bass (R-NH) (left) and Bill Clay (D-MO) stood frozen, mouths agape, for more than three hours Monday in front of an Escher print at the Capitol Building.

Congressmen broke from their regular work for several hours to ponder "Day and Night," a 1938 work by Escher, the popular Dutch artist (1898-1972) whose oft-seen woodcuts depict varied spacio-geometric paradoxes.

"This is too weird. It would appear the birds heading to the right are actually emerging from the negative space between the birds heading to the left," Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY) said. "And vice-versa."

"Whoa," said Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NE).

The poster, a readily available commercial reproduction found in countless gift shops and malls across the nation, was purchased at a D.C.-area Spencer Gifts.

According to reports, the legislators discovered the poster hanging in the locker of congressional page Jeffrey Farnham, 22, during a routine scotch-search late Monday afternoon and immediately became baffled. After pondering the picture for several hours, the assembled legislators passed a unanimous vote to order copies of "Night and Day," as well as countless other Escher works for display in the U.S. Capitol Building.

Though the Senate has been in emergency session ever since Monday's Escher discovery, legislators have reported little if any progress in resolving the confusion.

"Congress has addressed many difficult questions in the past: How do we correct the foreign trade imbalance? How do we decrease spending and reduce the deficit without cutting jobs? What country should we invade?" said Sen. Jim Jeffords (R-VT). "These Escher prints, however, raise many far more vexing questions: How do those fish and birds manage to turn into each other? How could the stairs be going up and down at the same time? We have our work cut out for us on this one."

Among the Escher works that have proven most baffling is the lithograph "Reptiles," in which small lizards crawl out of a two-dimensional drawing, then back into it again.

"It is clear that the artist has created a potentially infinite universe that is both two-dimensional and three-dimensional at the same time." Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) said. "But beyond this, we know very little at this time. To be honest, just thinking about it totally messes with my head."

Thus far, Congress has had little success unraveling the disorienting prints, as legislators have only been able to convene for 15 minutes at a time, requiring constant breaks to recover from Escher-induced headaches.

Measures have been enacted, however, to ensure resolution of the dilemma. "Despite our inability to figure out these odd drawings, Congress is committed to getting to the bottom of this," Jeffords said. "We have established a 20-member fact-finding committee to determine whether the guy is drawing the hand, or the hand is drawing the guy, or what the hell."

"These are questions the American people want answered," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). "Are these wormy-looking things rolling backwards or forwards? Am I under the window looking up, or what? We will get to the bottom of these matters, I assure you."

The most vociferous anti-Escher member of Congress has been still-alive Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC).

"If this picture is taken at face value, it would appear that Mr. Escher expects us to believe that the monks are ascending an infinite series of staircases while trapped within a limited spatial structure. Well, that's just malarkey," Helms said. "Is this the kind of confusing art on which we're spending hard-earned tax dollars? I think not."