The banks were too big to fail. The auto industry, with its 3 million jobs, couldn’t be left to die. But what about the sheep? The folks at the American Sheep Industry Association, which represents more than 70,000 sheep and lamb producers, recently asked the Feds to help it through the recession by making a $2 million “meat purchase.”

And why not? According to the association’s own analysis, sheep play a key role in the economy. The industry produces a half-billion dollars in meat, wool, milk and breeding stock every year – not to mention the $9.4 million market for whole, frozen sheep heads. (“My understanding is they are exported to Mexico,” says association head Burdell Johnson.) And according to the sheep lobby, all this production has a magical multiplier effect.

Every sheep-industry dollar adds $2.80 to the economy, while every 25 new sheep-farm jobs means an additional 36 jobs in related industries like meatpacking – and frozen-head exports.

Sound far-fetched? With trillions in new government spending flooding the economy, folks from every industry – helicopter makers, state foresters, dentists – are making similar arguments, sometimes with amusing results. In its effort to insert fraternity-house construction tax breaks into the stimulus bill, for instance, the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee noted that the measure would create jobs because fraternity-house sprinkler systems “are usually manufactured inside the U.S.”

Indeed, no one can resist the lure of free money. A few days after the sheep industry made its request, Tina Straley, executive director of the Mathematical Association of America, in Washington, D.C., posted a plea on her organization’s Web site: “Urgent: Contact your Congressman to support math funding in stimulus package.”

It’s the math-based professions – science and engineering – that keep our country competitive, she explained later that day. Besides, the recession was created by folks who thought we could keep spending more than we earn, “which just shows that people need more mathematics!”

Across town, Mike Paranzino, founder of the nonprofit Psoriasis Cure Now, was flummoxed at the prospect of competing for a slice of the $787 billion pie. “The asphalt lobbyists, honeybee lobbyists, the union folks – it’s a free-for-all,” he said. Still, he wasn’t having trouble making a case for his cause. “Anything that generates economic activity is now deemed good,” he says. His pitch: Health research is “shovel ready,” meaning that scientists with proposals are standing by. “The honeybee guys, I’m sure they’re ‘shovel ready’ too,” Paranzino concedes. “It’s the phrase of the moment.”

As various interests strained to prove their shovel-readiness, a civil war was breaking out in the paving industry over who would take on the $27.5 billion highway reconstruction. The Asphalt Pavement Alliance introduced a new study, “Asphalt Pavement: Meeting the Challenge for America,” which bragged about asphalt’s low cost and fast prep times compared with concrete’s. The Portland Cement Association fought back with “Concrete Stimulus: The Foundation of a Lasting Recovery,” which warned of a looming asphalt shortage.

And 2,300 miles beyond the Beltway, Dennis Hof, proprietor of the Moonlite BunnyRanch in Carson City, Nev., was planning a trip. While his high-profile bordello was doing fine, the state’s legal prostitution business was struggling, so why not seek assistance? “The girls need new hair extensions and tattoo touchups,” he says. He’ll be driving a pink-wrapped Prius to Washington, where he will march on Capitol Hill and demand a $1 billion aid package. It’s just for a laugh, but he’s not sure his request is any more absurd than the bailouts he’s already seen.

“It’s ridiculous,” he says. “What happened to old-fashioned bankruptcy? I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.”

Source: The New York Times Syndicate