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To hear Republican House members tell it, you'd think House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stuffed $30 million into the stimulus bill to benefit an endangered mouse in her district.
Rep. Steve King of Iowa called it an earmark and "a pet project" while pointing to a sign he made that said "Pelosi's Mouse slated for $30 Million."
Rep. John Boehner of Ohio opposed the bill and asked how money "for some salt marsh mouse in San Francisco is going to help a struggling autoworker in Ohio?"
And Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana said on Fox News that there was "$30 million in there to protect mice in San Francisco."
The tale of the mouse appears to have originated around Feb. 6, 2009, from Republican staff members of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee.
"Appropriations Republicans, concerned with this irresponsible process and possible abuse of taxpayer funds, have asked various federal agencies how they intend to spend the windfall of cash that Congress may approve in the 'stimulus' bill," said a memo posted to the site. "One peek behind the bureaucratic curtain has yielded the following examples of hidden program information that is not included in the language of the bill or report . These are programs which various federal agencies have privately indicated they will fund with 'stimulus' money."
The memo lists a number of projects, including up to $37.5 million for "wetland restoration in the San Francisco Bay Area — including work to protect the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse."
That became fodder for a Feb. 11 e-mail from Michael Steel, Boehner's spokesman. "Thirty million dollars for wetland restoration in the San Francisco Bay Area — including work to protect the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse," Steel wrote. "This sounds like spending projects that have been supported by a certain powerful Democrat in the past. And it certainly doesn't sound like it will create or save American jobs."
That e-mail made it into a Feb. 12 story in the Washington Times headlined "Pelosi's mouse slated for $30M slice of cheese." The story stated, incorrectly as it turns out, that the stimulus bill "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."
And that story was then picked up by the Drudge Report.
That's when the mouse references exploded, morphing from a possible project of an unnamed agency to Pence's "$30 million in there to protect mice in San Francisco."
We wanted to get to the bottom of this issue and find out what was up with the mouse.
Turns out the salt marsh harvest mouse is a previously obscure beneficiary of a major environmental restoration project for the San Francisco Bay area.
"A friend e-mailed me and asked me if any of the $30 million for the mouse was for us, and I was like 'What are you talking about?'" said Steve Ritchie, an engineer with the California State Coastal Conservancy, a state agency charged with preserving and restoring the coastline.
When the stimulus bill was first proposed and a call went out for ready-to-go projects, Ritchie prepared a list of the agency's shovel-ready projects and submitted it to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, both of which received money in the final version of the stimulus bill.
Three projects would turn abandoned industrial salt operations back into natural wetlands, about 26,000 acres in all. It turns out the mouse is an endangered species that likes tidal salt marshes, and it's mentioned by name as one of several species that will benefit.
But the projects themselves — the South Bay Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project , the Napa Plant Site , and the Napa Salt Marsh restoration — are intended to do more than just benefit wildlife. It's major construction work to create recreation areas and to restore marshland that will resist flooding and storm surge.
"This is bulldozers, front-end loaders, backhoes. These are major earth-moving projects to break down levees, to resculpt the landscape and to make sure nature can do its thing," Ritchie said. "Right now, we just have these lousy little salt pond levees and they break."
"These are real jobs, and these are truly ready to go," he added. "We can definitely spend this money for construction by Nov. 30, 2010."
Given this description of the projects, which were first reported in the San Jose Mercury News , it's a serious distortion to say there's money in the bill to protect San Francisco mice. The bill doesn't even list the San Francisco projects by name. And the funding agencies — the Corps of Engineers or NOAA — could still decide to fund the projects or not. The bill passed a final vote in the House on Feb. 13, with no Republicans supporting it.
So Pelosi did not put an earmark in the bill to save the mice. In fact, there's no money in the bill for mice. For this reason, we rate Pence's remark False.
YouTube.com, Rep. Steve King on the stimulus bill, accessed Feb. 13, 2009
CQ.com, Rep. Pence interviewed on Fox News, Feb. 12, 2009
The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee - Republican, Hidden Stimulus Spending: We're Buying What??? , Feb. 6, 2009, accessed Feb. 13, 2009
The Washington Times, Pelosi's mouse slated for $30M slice of cheese , Feb. 12, 2009
San Jose Mercury News, Bay Area mouse spurs national debate over stimulus bill , Feb. 13, 2009
ProPublica, The Stimulus Plan: A Detailed List of Spending , accessed Feb. 13, 2009
Interview with Steve Ritchie of the California State Coastal Conservancy , Feb. 13, 2009
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