NASHVILLE -- When manufacturer Alstom recently held a grand opening for its $300 million Chattanooga plant to build turbines for fossil fuel and nuclear power generation, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Zach Wamp quickly jumped in with praise and a bit of self-promotion.
"Alstom's investment into Chattanooga means good high-end manufacturing jobs for our region's workers," U.S. Rep. Wamp, R-Tenn., said. "The location of this factory underscores the importance of Chattanooga and the Tennessee Valley Technology Corridor for energy technologies in the nation."
The Tennessee Valley Technology Corridor is an economic development promotion effort that the Chattanooga congressman founded and has touted during his gubernatorial campaign.
Left unsaid, however, was the fact that Alstom's plant is the beneficiary of $63 million in federal clean energy tax credits. Those come thanks to the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Rep. Wamp voted against the federal economic stimulus program and repeatedly has criticized it. In a news release last December, for example, he labeled it as "excessive government spending that has not led to economic recovery or job creation."
Still, the Alstom plant is one of several projects or programs, aided at least in part by federal stimulus funds, that the congressman has lauded since the stimulus package passed. That fact has not gone unnoticed by Democrats and other Republicans.
"While there are many stimulus hypocrites ... in the Republican Party, Wamp seems to flip-flop on his stimulus position on a near-monthly basis," said Think Progress, a blog operated by the Washington-based liberal Center for American Progress, last week.
Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's blog took aim too, calling Rep. Wamp's praise of the Alstom plant "yet another entry in the chronicles of Recovery Act hypocrisy."
In an interview with Chattanooga Times Free Press editors and reporters last week, Rep. Wamp defended his praise of such projects as Alstom, despite voting against and criticizing the federal stimulus.
"There's always a silver lining in the cloud," he said. "I said probably 15 percent of this will actually create some economic development and 85 percent of it is going to saddle us with long-term debt."
The effectiveness of the stimulus funding nationwide has been fiercely debated as has its level of spending and accompanying federal debt.
The congressman, a member of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, estimated that of the total $787 billion package, about $100 billion to $115 billion "would be well invested."
Democrats have criticized Republicans who voted against the package and later showed up when projects were announced.
But when it comes to Rep. Wamp, Democrats aren't the only critics.
"The congressman has a history in Washington of saying one thing and doing another, something Tennesseans don't want in their next governor," said David Smith, spokesman for Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, another GOP gubernatorial candidate.
Last year, Rep. Wamp, a proponent of high-speed rail, suggested the stimulus plan's high-speed rail initiative should have included $50 billion instead of $8 billion.
"We need to throw the ball deep," he told the Times Free Press at the time.
That drew criticism from Ben Cunningham of Tennessee Tax Revolt, a watchdog over government spending and taxation. In an April 27, 2009, blog posting, he charged "we will never ever control federal spending with Republicans like Zach Wamp."
Before the stimulus bill passed, Rep. Wamp joined an unsuccessful effort to insert $25 million to help TVA's cleanup efforts after the massive December 2008 coal ash spill at the federal electric utility's Kingston Fossil Plant.
The stimulus also provided $62 million toward a new lock for TVA's Chickamauga Dam in Chattanooga.
Rep. Wamp last year also applauded a decision by Oak Ridge National Laboratory to use some of $71.2 million in stimulus funding to replace a nearly 50-year-old materials research facility plagued with leaky pipes and high heating expenses.
According to ProPublica, an investigative website, the U.S. Energy Department has awarded an estimated $894 million for various energy-related projects in Anderson County, home to the laboratory that is in Rep. Wamp's 3rd Congressional District.
That is among an estimated $1.4 billion being spent through the energy department. Earlier this year, the congressman's website, under a section called "Accomplishments: District Highlights," notes that Wacker Chemical, which plans to build a $1 billion plant in Bradley County to manufacture solar energy components, was awarded a "significant tax credit." That was a $128 million clean energy grant funded by the stimulus, according to a Times Free Press report.
"There are energy and infrastructure investments that you can actually look at and say they were helpful," Rep. Wamp acknowledged.
But he again emphasized that the stimulus package placed "a burden on our economy, a burden on the next generation that we will not repay in our lifetimes."
Mr. Cunningham with Tennessee Tax Revolt said Rep. Wamp can't have it both ways.
"It is hypocritical ... to come to the press conferences and brag about a new project when that new project adds to the deficit," he said. "Be an adult and say it costs too much. ... He has not shown that kind of fortitude."
Continue reading by following these links to related stories:
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...