SEAGULL: Sources inside the federal Food and Drug Administration say that a tainted Congress, believed to be responsible for sickening millions of Americans over the past several weeks, may be recalled soon. NPR's Ina Yappy reports.
YAPPY: It's sweeping the country. It plays no favorites, affecting red, blue, and paisley states alike. Nearly every county in the nation has reported widespread cases of nausea and moral upset, the vast majority of them associated with exposure to Congress by means of television and other media. Myra Pinsky is a retired garment worker who lives in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York.
PINSKY: So I'm watching on C-Span the debate over the Military Commissar's Act, when all from a sudden I have to run to the little girl's room. By the time I get out the bill is signed! It was worse even than in the war, when we were hiding in Paris and Tante Frieda put the carp for the gefilte fish in the bidet instead of the bathtub.
YAPPY: Mrs. Pinsky's experience is far from unusual. Rusty Struts is a trucker from Crawfish, Texas.
STRUTS: I was halfway between Lubbock and Abilene on I-84, listenin' to the "Texas Roadhouse" show on KGOP, when the news come on and they had that Hastert feller makin' excuses. Well, seein' as I'd already tossed out the paper bag from the Taco Cabana, I had to pull over double quick, which ain't no cakewalk with a sixteen-wheeler.
YAPPY: Teams of investigators from the Food and Drug Administration have been combing Capitol Hill since early this week, trying to pinpoint the source of the contamination. At present, attention is focused on the huge piles of organic fertilizer that litter the floors of both chambers. Denton Venice is a spokesman for the FDA.
VENICE: Preliminary evidence, and I stress that it is preliminary, leads us to suspect that legislators may not be washing their hands thoroughly after shoveling the, uh, manure.
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSPERSON [fade in, then out]: ... I think we have a military commission model that affords due process under the law of war that our Nation can be proud of, that will work in a way to render justice, and if a condition is abstained, it will be something we can be proud of as a nation. I am hopeful that the world would see...
YAPPY: Yet scientists warn against a rush to judgment. Possible sources of the contamination are many and varied, they say, and more than one may be contributing to the problem. Dr. Ella Salmon is a microbiologist at Johns Hopkins Medical School.
SALMON: When you think about it, Congress is really just a huge petri dish. Billions of dollars of corporate money coming in each year, much of it inadequately laundered. Billions of pounds of pork stored in unrefrigerated barrels. Large quantities of fresh meat from all over the country in contact with, let us say, insufficiently sanitary old men. If you asked me to design the perfect growth medium, I doubt I could do much better.
YAPPY: Dr. Salmon says that in wartime, the problem is exacerbated by the many corpses that refuse to remain buried. Given such conditions, she says, Congress was a major public health disaster waiting to happen. She quotes 19th-century British bacteriologist Lord Acton:
SALMON: Power contaminates, he said. And absolute power contaminates absolutely.
YAPPY: Other scientists, however, suspect the problem may be just the opposite. Dr. Nick Bubo is a Frankish king of the Merovingian dynasty.
BUBO: No, I'm not.
YAPPY: Dr. Nick Bubo is an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia.
BUBO: You have a situation over the past few years where large amounts of power are being diverted from Congress to the White House. There is simply not enough power left on Capitol Hill for proper refrigeration. Add to that the fact that rubber stamps are being used repeatedly without proper sterilization, and, frankly, it's amazing people don't get sick more often.
YAPPY: But for now, the FDA says, its investigation remains focused on manure and the microbes it may carry. Escherichia Coli is a deadly bacterium that occurs naturally in the feces of ruminants.
YAPPY: Whatever the cause, no one questions the urgency of the problem. Recall is considered a drastic measure, but with no letup of the outbreak in sight, sources inside the FDA say, the agency may be forced to act. Meanwhile, consumers are being advised to avoid contact with television, newspapers, the internet, even [inaudible]. If you think you've already been exposed, health experts say, see a doctor immediately. Symptoms include nausea, projectile expostulation, dizziness, fever, and, in extreme cases, voting.
For National Public Radio, I'm Ina Yappy in Washington.
CUE MUSIC: Peggy Lee, "Fever" (Capitol)