Tuesday, September 9, 1997
More oinking from
halls of Congress

The Cincinnati Enquirer

It is my unpleasant duty to inform you that your government is thinking of spending one million of your dollars on pig manure. Or, more precisely, on the smell of pig manure.

Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., has announced plans to ask Congress for $1 million to find out how to extinguish the stink from hog farms. Have you been bothered lately by the smell of pigs?

I didn't think so.

Maybe somebody else has complained. Do you suppose yuppies are growing bored with their clusters of fake colonial houses in suburbia? Are they leaving Raccoon Circle and Deer Lane and Fox Boulevard, named in honor of the wildlife that used to live where they have installed their automatic sprinkler systems?

Are they heading farther from town, hoping to inhale country air, except not to the extent that they would actually like to inhale what people in the country inhale?

Useful warning

Just in case there is some wonderful reason to spend a million dollars on pig manure instead of, say, textbooks, I called Mr. LaHood's office in Washington, D.C. I was referred to Tim Butler, the congressman's swine spokesperson in Peoria, Ill., who told me that ''we are still in the process of drafting the legislation.''

So this was not just some ugly rumor? This is not a dirty trick by an opponent? The congressman really thinks this is a good idea? Why stop at pig manure? Why not scent strips in magazines? How about cigar smoke? College students bathed in patchouli. Women who wear Giorgio in elevators?

Is there some poop pollution threatening our well-being and that of our children and pets? Is it dangerous? Is there environmental concern?

Well, he didn't think so. ''We are focusing right now on the odor.''

Odor, I observe, seems kind of a useful warning in case you would not like to participate more intimately with the pig or its natural by-products. It becomes clear to Mr. Butler that I am just not getting the big picture.

He refers me to Dr. Peter B. Johnson, director of the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, a division of the U.S. Agriculture Department. Removing the smell from pig manure is not easy, Dr. Johnson says, but ''it's not a bizarrely difficult, intractable problem.''

And I'll bet if we throw a few million dollars at it, we could make it very tractable.

This is a time-honored government tradition, in which our elected officials take as much of our money as possible and redistribute it to people who need it more than we do, such as people who live in their districts.

It's called pork, short for pork barrel. It got its name, according to the public library, from ''the old plantation days when slaves gathered at the pork barrel for the allowance of pork reserved for them.''

Prince of Pork

I guess you could say this particular project is pork, once removed. And not much of it makes its way to us slaves around here, according to the Congressional Pig Book, issued by the Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW). Ohio ranks 47th in per-capita waste. Kentucky is No. 14, and Indiana ranks 28th.

The Prince of Pork is Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who could be heard squealing loudest about the line-item veto. No wonder. Besides the gazillion dollars he has raked into his home state, according to CAGW, he spent $101,226 of taxpayers' money to publish his remarks on the Senate floor about ancient Roman history.

I challenge Dr. Johnson to remove the odor from that one.

Next, Dr. Johnson's department suggests that I check the swine home page on the Internet. Here you can buy everything you need for pig farming, including ''stingy nipple waterers'' and ''green catheters designed for gilts.'' You can learn about increasing production and profits.

I could not find a single demand for more fragrant barnyards. Not even in the chat rooms.

Pig manure stinks. It has always done so. And, so far, this hasn't cost me a dime. So, in my opinion, almost any pig farm in the country smells better than Congress.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.