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Pelosi's Mouse Explained: What's Actually In The Stimulus Bill

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Now that congressional Democrats have gone through the stimulus bill to yank out anything that has a remote chance of being ridiculed by the GOP - STD-prevention funding and seeding the National Mall, for instance - they still find themselves mocked.

A prominent headline on the Drudge Report Thursday: "Pelosi's mouse slated for $30M slice of cheese..."

Drudge is often the last stop a story makes just before showing up on cable news and other mainstream outlets. (It was Drudge who highlighted the STD funding that ended up axed.)

The problem for stimulus critics is that the package has no earmarks, leaving little to ridicule.

But the money has to be spent somewhere, so House Republicans went looking for embarrassing projects that could be funded by the stimulus. "Appropriations Committee Republicans have been asking federal agencies exactly how the pots of money in the bill will be spent - since much of the spending isn't explicitly spelled out in the legislation," wrote Michael Steel, an aide to Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), in an e-mail to reporters.

"One response? Thirty million dollars for wetland restoration in the San Francisco Bay Area - including work to protect the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse," he said.

The Washington Times and conservative blogs picked up the charge and ran with it. "Pelosi's mouse slated for $30M slice of cheese," headlined the Times.

Steel's argument is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had previously supported protection of the mouse. "So can Speaker Pelosi explain exactly how we will improve the American economy by helping the adorable little fellow pictured below?"

One simple answer: workers would be paid to restore wetlands, and the restored wetlands then have an economic benefit in terms of filtering water, slowing run-off and improving the health of fisheries.

On Thursday, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) took to the House floor to make a different point: the money for the restoration isn't actually in the bill.

"There are no earmarks in this bill. There is no earmark for rats in San Francisco. There is money that goes to the EPA and the Department of the Interior for cleanup of wetlands and maintaining of wetlands and apparently this is on a list of ready-to-go projects but it, like many others, must compete within the departments for that money. It is not a specific earmark within the bill," he said. "That trivializes this bill."

Steel isn't backing down. "The bottom line remains the same: if the bill passes, taxpayers will spend $30 million to protect a rodent in San Francisco. That will not help struggling American families, and it will not help our economy create or preserve jobs," he told the Huffington Post.

But Pelosi's office says even this broader claim isn't true. Spokesman Drew Hammill tells the Plum Line's Greg Sargent, "There are no federal wetland restoration projects in line to get funded in San Francisco... The idea that $30 million will be spent to save mice is a total fabrication."