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Political Smell Test: Reichert’s “WhoisSuzan” site and DelBene’s stimulus support

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Oct. 25, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
October 29, 2010 12:13 pm

The claim:

Republican Congressman Dave Reichert has launched a website, whoissuzan.com, that attacks his challenger for the 8th District U.S. House seat, Democrat Suzan DelBene.

The site, also referred to in some of Reichert’s TV ads now being aired, contains the web page, “Suzan’s Spending Spree,” which claims DelBene supports reckless spending policies, including a host of purportedly dubious stimulus-funded projects nationwide

Here’s the full text of the page in question:


“In an era of out-of-control spending and record high debt, Suzan DelBene has cast the concerns of Washington voters aside in favor of supporting the reckless policies being forced through Congress by Democratic leadership in Washington D.C. One such measure was the so-called “stimulus” legislation, which cost American taxpayers over $862 billion but was ineffective in growing the economy or keeping unemployment in check. Here are just ten of the projects Suzan supports:

1. Ants Talk. Taxpayers Listen (San Francisco, CA) – $1.9 million
The California Academy of Sciences is receiving stimulus funds to send researchers abroad to study exotic ants. Photographs of the different species found will be posted online

2. Jamming for Dollars (Atlanta, GA) – $762,372
An assistant professor of music will receive stimulus funds to study improvised music. The project will involve the professor jamming with musicians to understand real-time collaborative creativity.

3. Scientist Attempts to Create Joke Machine (Evanston, IL) – $712,883
Researchers at Northwestern University are using stimulus funds to develop “machine-generated humor.” The lead designer plans to use artificial intelligence to create a “comedic performance agent” that will mine jokes from the Internet and then use them to create presentations that mimic real-life comedians.

4. Monkey and Chimpanzee Responses to Inequity (Atlanta, GA) – $677,462
Researchers at Georgia State University are using stimulus funds to study why monkeys respond negatively to inequity and unfairness. Primates will be asked to make decisions about whether or not to accept rewards in a series of studies in which their outcomes vary relative to their social partners.

5. Studying the Effect of Local Populations on the Environment… in the Himalayas (Ann Arbor, MI) – $529,648
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded a grant to study the “reciprocal relationship between population processes and the environment in the foothills of the Nepalese Himalayas.”

6. Weather Predictions for Other Planets (San Antonio, TX) – $298,543
The government has given the Southwest Research Institute stimulus funds to provide interplanetary weather information.

7. Stimulus Funds Going to the Dogs (Ithaca, NY) – $296,385
Cornell University scientists have received stimulus funds to study dog domestication. The new study “will likely challenge current theories of dog origins and develop village dogs into a useful system of the study of domestication, speciation, behavior, and morphology.”

8. Helping Siberians Lobby Russian Policymakers (San Francisco, CA) – $199, 862
Pacific Environment has received a stimulus grant for an experimental applied science project to assist indigenous Siberian communities in engaging Russian policymakers in local, civic, and environmental issues.

9. Monkeys Get High for Science (Winston-Salem, NC) – $144, 541
The Department of Health and Human Services has spent stimulus dollars to see how monkeys react under the influence of cocaine.

10. Let’s Polka at the International Accordion Festival (San Antonio, TX) – $25,000
The 2009 International Accordion Festival received a grant it promised would be a “celebration of all things squeezebox.”

What the campaigns say:

Reichert:
“Those are projects from the stimulus bill, and she overwhelmingly supports the entire stimulus,” Reichert spokesman Darren Littell said.

DelBene:
“Congress did not direct money to specific projects,” said DelBene campaign spokesman Scott Whiteaker. “Specific projects weren’t in the legislation. It’s false to claim Suzan supported these projects, because they weren’t in the legislation.”

The Facts:

The site references “McCain Coburn Report 2010” as the source of information for the claims. The 74-page report, the third in a series co-authored by Republican U.S. Senators John McCain and Tom Coburn, identifies questionable stimulus-funded projects (Some of the same projects included in the report have been used in other recent ads to attack stimulus-backing candidates, including an ad criticizing Patty Murray paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to benefit Dino Rossi.)

The federal “stimulus bill” referenced on the website is the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009,” which actually made $275 billion available for federal contracts, grants and loans. The $862 figure included on the Reichert website factors in upward cost adjustments, as well as other provisions approved in the measure, including $288 billion in tax cuts and $224 billion allotted for education, health care and entitlement programs, such as extending unemployment benefits.

DelBene has said she generally supported passage of the stimulus bill as a necessary component to jump-starting the economy. “I think the stimulus package was a short-term effort to keep the financial system from falling apart,” she recently told The News Tribune.

Reichert, meanwhile, voted against the measure, making it a center-piece of his campaign for several months. “Generally speaking, the stimulus bill has been a failure,” he recently told The News Tribune.

Yet Reichert also has said that he supports parts of the bill, and he has voted for past stimulus efforts — including the $168 billion Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, signed by then-President George W. Bush.

Both candidates have taken similar positions on what they see as shortcomings in the 2009 bill – a lack of focus on long-term economic recovery.

DelBene:

The unfortunate part that’s come out is that we’ve only been focused on short term – and we should have (also) been focused … on long term economic opportunity right away.

Reichert:

I was disappointed that it didn’t include infrastructure for roads, smart grid, transportation — long-term projects.

Without wading too deeply into the broader debate of whether the stimulus actually has created jobs and reduced unemployment (the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that it has in both regards), no lawmaker (or candidate) who voted for (or supports) the legislation had control over how the stimulus money was doled out.

Here’s how the nonpartisan Recovery.gov — the website established to track stimulus funds — describes the process:

Twenty-eight different agencies – such as the Departments of Education; Health and Human Services; and Energy – have been allocated a portion of the $787 billion in Recovery funds. Each agency develops specific plans for how it will spend its Recovery Act funds. The agencies then award grants and contracts to state governments or, in some cases, directly to schools, hospitals, contractors, or other organizations. The agencies are required to file weekly financial reports on how they are spending the money and their specific activities related to Recovery funds. Starting in October 2009, recipients filed their first of regular quarterly reports on how they are spending the Recovery Act funds that they received.

(On a side note, while Reichert has consistently criticized last year’s stimulus act, he actually has sent endorsement letters on behalf of applicants seeking grants created under the law. That’s led DelBene’s camp to call Reichert a stimulus hypocrite. In a recent interview, Reichert defended such endorsements, saying: “All you can do there is make sure the money is spent wisely. In that regard, if money is going to be spent, you want to make sure it’s useful to the people that will hopefully create jobs.”)

The Bottom Line:

The web page’s claims are false.

DelBene has expressed general support of the stimulus bill and its intent to create jobs, but she has absolutely no connection (nor would she have, had she been in Congress and voted for the bill) to the purportedly dubious stimulus projects listed on the “WhoisSuzan” website. Stimulus funds are allocated directly to federal agencies, which decide which projects receive them.

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