A south Georgia farmer sprays insecticide in this undated photo from the University of Georgia College of Agriculture and Environmental Science. (April 2013)
WASHINGTON -- Republican budget-cutters joined Democratic defenders of food stamps on Thursday to deal a shocking defeat to the $500 billion farm bill backed by Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, undermining hopes of enacting legislation before the current stop-gap law expires.
HOW GEORGIA VOTED
This is how Georgia's House of Representatives delegation voted Thursday on the federal farm bill. The legislation was defeated 234-195, with 172 Democrats and 62 Republicans voting against it. In favor of passage were 171 Republicans and 24 Democrats.
Austin Scott, R-8; Jack Kingston, R-1; Lynn Westmoreland, R-3; Rob Woodall, R-7; John Barrow, D-12
Sanford Bishop, D-2; Hank Johnson, D-4; John Lewis, D-5 Tom Price, R-6; Doug Collins, R-9; Paul Broun, R-10; Phil Gingrey, R-11; David Scott, D-13; Tom Graves, R-14
The embarrassing loss for Republican leaders was the first time in at least 40 years that the House voted down a farm bill.
Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor generally do not bring legislation to the floor until they are sure they have enough votes for passage.
It showed the power of the Tea Party-influenced fiscal conservatives to disrupt legislation. A Library of Congress study showed it also may be the first time in history the House has rejected a farm bill, although in 2012 a farm bill died without being brought to a vote.
Agricultural interest groups were stunned.
"Today's failure leaves the entire food and agriculture sector in the lurch," the American Soybean Association, a group which represents growers, said in a statement. Frank Lucas, the disappointed chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said "I have no doubt we'll finish our work in the near future" although he did not suggest how.
Without a new law by Sept. 30 or extension of current law, government farm support rates, which guarantee a minimum price to farmers for crops or dairy products, will revert to high levels guaranteed by an underlying 1949 law. The cost of a gallon of milk in the grocery store could double if dairy processors are forced to bid up the price of milk to match the government support level.
Food stamp cuts are the major issue for the farm bill. The House bill called for the largest cuts in a generation -- $20 billion -- that would disqualify 2 million poor Americans.
Democrats, said it set unduly harsh work rules and gave states incentives to cut off recipients. Tea Party-backed Republicans wanted even steeper cuts in food stamps.
Last week, the Senate passed a bill that proposed a $4 billion cut, one-fifth of the House level, through modest reforms to the major U.S. anti-hunger program.
Cantor blamed Democrats for the outcome, saying they were not interested in consensus. Steny Hoyer, the assistant Democratic leader, said the bill failed because Republicans insisted on "egregious" changes to food stamps.
All but two dozen Democrats in the House voted against the bill. The biggest surprise was that about one quarter of the Republican majority also voted no, in most instances because they wanted deeper cuts to food stamps and other programs than proposed. The 234-195 vote undermined hopes of enacting a farm bill before the current stop-gap law expires in the fall.
"I am glad we stood up for children," said Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, after the vote. Democrats had complained that cutting food stamps would deprive children from low-income families of adequate nutrition.