- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2009

House Republicans are challenging Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s claim that the massive stimulus spending bill contains no pet projects after uncovering in the bill more than $30 million for wetlands conservation in her San Francisco Bay area district, including work she previously championed to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse.

“This sounds like spending projects that have been supported by a certain powerful Democrat in the past,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

“It certainly doesn’t sound like it will create or save American jobs,” he said. “So can Speaker Pelosi explain exactly how we will improve the American economy by helping the adorable little” critter?

A spokesman for Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said the claim was “fabricated” by Republicans.

“The speaker nor her staff have had any involvement in this initiative. This is yet another contrived partisan attack,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said. “Restoration is key to economic activity including farming, fisheries, recreation, and clean water.”

The criticism of hidden pet projects, or earmarks, in the economic rescue comes as Capitol Hill leaders rush to finalize a roughly $800 billion package in closed-door negotiations. President Obama boasts the stimulus plan contains no earmarks since Congress technically did not use the earmark process for lawmakers to request and drop in specific spending items.

However, much the legislation was written behind closed doors and Republicans question how the projects were chosen.

Congressional leaders are currently hurrying to reconcile the Senate’s $838 billion bill and the House-passed $819 billion version by Mr. Obama’s weekend deadline, and the Democratic leaders vowed to keep lawmakers in Washington through next week’s planned Presidents Day recess if they don’t get the job done in time.

As they barter over what tax cuts and spending to keep and which to cut, the negotiators are not expected to touch scores of spending items criticized by Republicans.

Some of those items that Republicans are calling earmarks include $200 million for clean-burning power plant in Mattoon, Ill., and $750 million for the National Computer Center and $500 million for the National Institute of Health offices, both located in Maryland.

Other spending questioned by Republicans, and not considered on the chopping block, are $275 million for flood prevention, $200 million for public computer centers at community colleges and libraries and $650 million for the digital TV converter box coupons.

The list goes on: $1 billion for administrative costs and construction of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office buildings, $100 million for constructing U.S. Marshals office buildings, and $1.3 billion for NASA, including $450 million tagged for science.

Then there is the $300 million for hybrid and electric cars for the federal government, which include golf carts for federal workers to tool around in.

“One of the proudest boasts of Democrats supporting their trillion-dollar spending plan is that it doesn’t contain earmarks,” Mr. Steel said. “But it seems like powerful Democrats will still find a way to bring home the bacon.”