Three members of Tennessee's congressional delegation, including U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville, have taken the unusual step of revealing the lists of local projects they are pushing to be included in next year's federal budget.
Cooper, a Democrat, along with Democratic Reps. Lincoln Davis of Pall Mall and Harold Ford Jr. of Memphis are seeking more than $500 million for more than 100 projects, although only a handful of those requests will end up being approved.
The practice of funding special requests is viewed by some as controversial because of the secrecy surrounding the requests, the growth in their number, the role lobbyists play in obtaining special funding, and how these projects skew the budget-building process.
Congress placed 12,852 special funding requests in last year's appropriations bills, with a value of $67 billion, but only 4 percent were actually in the text of the bills where they could be easily found, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.
"Earmarks (the special funding projects) can be spent wisely, but there is no safeguard," Cooper said. "I think a process so open to abuse has to be curbed."
Cooper wants these special requests eliminated and federal funds distributed through the formal budget process based on need, not on political or special-interest power.
Davis thinks requests that come from special-interest lobbyists should be banned, but others in the delegation defend them.
UPDATE: Reader TC Lynch emails (more in response to the last Hobbs item than this one, I think): "As you've noted, going after Bill Hobbs has to be one of the dumbest things, in retrospect, any Tenny Democrat could ever have done, in the view of 'advancing' the state party's agenda. Instead of neutering him, they allowed him to totally cut loose."