We have instant coffee, instant money and instant gratification, so now meet the newest wrinkle on Capitol Hill -- the instant lobby, which is pushing, of all things, the ivory trade.
Great issues ebb and flow before Congress, each with its own pressure-wielding constituency, and so it is with the matter of African elephant tusks and their users.
When the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee this summer took up a bill to regulate the flow of ivory from elephants, an endangered species, into the United States, an ivory lobby promptly took shape.
By the time the committee finished work on the bill a few weeks ago, the ivory lobby had let elephant-sized tracks all across the legislation.
The Kimball Piano Co. got an exemption for the keyboards of its costliest concert instruments. Safari Club International got an exemption for its trophy-hunting members. Scrimshaw artists got an exemption for the raw materials for their fine carvings.
And the quickly formed American Ivory Association, mostly importers who feared the worst, ended up with a bill they think that they and maybe even the endangered elephants can live with.
None of which is to say that the House committee got snarled by wily game hunters and ivory peddlers. Actually, the committee's bill has made almost everyone happy, including conservationists who worry the most over the fate of the elephants.
Craig Van Note, spokesman for a consortium of 35 environmental groups working for tighter regulation of ivory imports, said the bill is a reasonable compromise that should work.
Rep. JOHN M. Murphy (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House committee, echoed that view. If enacted into law (it awaits House approval and Senate action), the bill will curb the traffic in illicit ivory and protect African elephants, Murphy said.
The bill, pushed by Murphy and Rep. ANTHONY C. Beilenson (D-Calif.), would impose a six-month moratorium on imports of elephants and elephant products, then follow that with a tightly regulated import system.
Import permits would be granted only to nations that actively manage and conserve their elephant populations. Limits would be set on exemptions, and ivory could be brought in only through the ports of New York and Seattle to assure firm customs control.
The genesis of this was a proposal by Beilenson in 1978 and again this year to ban all U.S. trade in elephant ivory and other elephant products -- the idea being that the majestic but threatened African elephant needed that kind of protection.
In time, Beilenson had some "second thoughts" about the wisdom of an all-out ban, one of his staff aides said, and he and Murphy joined forces to come up with a compromise.
One of the problems, Murphy said this month, has been "ineffective" U.S. customs regulation of ivory traffic since the Interior Department in 1977 designated the African elephant as a "threatened species." Illegally poached ivory poured into the country, he said.
But with the bad came the not-so-bad, and that's where the ivory lobby flexed a muscle it wasn't sure it even had.
Four of the biggest ivory importers, here for Murphy's hearings in July, realized they had a problem. They formed the American Ivory Association and hired JOHN B. Hallagan, a zoologist, to tell Congress their story.
Scrimshaw artists, who say plastic and other substances are no substitute for the fine ivory they require, got committee members from Massachusetts and Washington to go to bat for them. They'll continue to get their ivory.
Big-game hunters, who travel thousands of miles and spend thousands of dollars to bag a trophy, howled loudly. Through the Safari Club and its Washington representative, Michael Strother, they got Rep. John B. Breaux (D-La.) to get them an exemption for their elephant trophies.
But perhaps the most discordant note came from the tiny town of Jasper, Ind., home of Kimball Pianos. Kimball's finest concert model, the Kimball-Bosendorfer, made in Austria, is equipped with ivory keys.
Of the estimated 250 top-of-the-line pianos -- all with ivory keyboards -- that enter the United States each year, about half are Kimball-Bosendorfers, some selling for more than $50,000.
Kimball executive Tony Habig said the simple truth is that concert artists prefer ivory. "It's is cooler to the touch and it absorbs perspiration," he said.
Clearly, the Warsaw Concerto in plastic doesn't quite cut it, so Habig looked around for a congressman with a similar fine ear. It turned out to be Rep. LEE H. Hamilton (D-Ind.) who persuaded the committee to accept the piano-keys exemption.
Hallagan of the Ivory Association said the bill would be a big blow to Hong Kong, which swarms with artisans who work on ivory jewelry. The six-month import ban would affect them directly.
"But we don't think it will cause severe harm to the importers, or those who work it," he said. "All ivory traders are not a bunch of money-hungry elephant killers. We are going to try to work with our people to take the speculation out of this [ivory prices are soaring]. We have to eliminate the poachers and try to recover as much ivory as possible through natural elephant mortality to supply the trade."
And in keeping with the unwritten Washington rule of once-a-lobby, always-a-lobby, Hallagan's group intends to stick around. "We'll stay in this and we'll remain active, at least until this bill gets through the Senate," he said.
Hallagan didn't say so, but Rep. Beilenson might want to keep an eye peeled. He got the committee to accept an amendment allowing states to have stricter ivory import rules than the federal restrictions, if they wish.
It happens that California banned ivory imports in the early 1970s, at Beilenson's insistence when he was a state legislator. The American Ivory Association would like the ban repealed. CAPTION: Picture, no caption; Copyright (c) South Africa Tourist Corp.