Talk about a pet project. A tiny mouse with the longtime backing of a political giant may soon reap the benefits of the economic-stimulus package.
Lawmakers and administration officials divulged Wednesday that the $789 billion economic stimulus bill being finalized behind closed doors in Congress includes $30 million for wetlands restoration that the Obama administration intends to spend in the San Francisco Bay Area to protect, among other things, the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi represents the city of San Francisco and has previously championed preserving the mouse's habitat in the Bay Area.
The revelation immediately became a political football, as Republicans accused Democrats of reneging on a promise to keep so-called earmarks that fund lawmakers' favorite projects out of the legislation. Democrats, including Mrs. Pelosi, countered that the accusations were fabricated.
See related story: Deal reached on historic stimulus
Politics aside, the episode demonstrates that no matter how hard lawmakers argue that they technically lived up to their pledge to keep specific projects from being listed in the bill, there is little stopping the federal money from going to those projects after the legislation passes and federal and state agencies begin deciding where to spend their newfound dollars.
Programs for sexually transmitted diseases, smoking prevention, a clean-burning power plant and a computer center also appear ready to get infusions of money once the bill becomes law, congressional offices told The Washington Times.
"One of the proudest boasts of Democrats supporting their trillion-dollar spending plan is that it doesn't contain earmarks. But it seems like powerful Democrats will still find a way to bring home the bacon," said a frustrated Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, who took direct aim at the mouse.
"This certainly doesn't sound like it will create or save American jobs," Mr. Steel 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 said Republicans "fabricated" the claim.
"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."
Republican lawmakers said they learned of the marsh money when asking about how various agencies plan to spend stimulus money. The vitality of the mouse has been an issue for Mrs. Pelosi and other California Democrats since the early 1990s.
President Obama boasts that the stimulus plan contains no earmarks because Congress technically did not use the earmark process for lawmakers to request and drop in specific spending items. Congressional leaders were putting the finishing touches on a $789 billion final version of the bill Wednesday night. It was not clear how many of the programs criticized by Republicans remained in the package.
Some of those items that Republicans are calling earmarks include $200 million for a clean-burning power plant in Mattoon, Ill., and $750 million for the National Computer Center and $500 million for the National Institutes of Health offices, both located in Maryland.
Other spending questioned by Republicans -- but 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. The funding includes golf carts for federal workers.
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