Congressmen, farmers disappointed in farm bill's demise

A man drives a tractor down Highway 133 in Dougherty County. Local farmers say they’re disappointed that the U.S. House voted down the farm bill.

A man drives a tractor down Highway 133 in Dougherty County. Local farmers say they’re disappointed that the U.S. House voted down the farm bill.

ALBANY, Ga. -- When the U.S. House of Representatives voted to kill a long-awaited Farm Bill Thursday, it shocked the agriculture community and illustrated a complex political divide that threatens to scuttle any sense of cooperation on Capitol Hill.

The $500 billion legislation authorizes implementation of hundreds of programs that range from crop insurance programs to public assistance and has been eagerly awaited by farmers for two years.

And despite the bipartisan work of those on the House Agriculture committee, the bill died on the House floor Thursday, following an odd alignment of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats.

Congressman Sanford Bishop, a Democrat from Albany who has touted himself among the more fiscally conservative Democrats in Congress, said Friday that the bill that came out of the ag committee had his vote, but that a series of "poison pill" amendments that dramatically stripped public assistance funding added after the bill hit the House floor forced his hand.

"Unfortunately, what many of us feared might happen, did happen. Due to overall reduced budget allocations, the initial draft included $20.5 billion in egregious SNAP cuts (compared to only $4 billion of cuts in the Senate Bill), the program our nation uses to protect and nourish those without sufficient food," Bishop wrote in a statement to the Herald Friday. "While I hoped that those and other troubling issues would have been addressed in conference with the Senate, even more reckless and devastating amendments were added to the bill on the floor, forcing even more drastic and unconscionable cuts to the SNAP program."

Bishop, along with fellow Georgia Democrats Hank Johnson and John Lewis, joined with Georgia Republicans Tom Price, Doug Collins, Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, David Scott and Tom Graves in voting against the bill.

Bishop's geographic colleague in the House, Rep. Austin Scott, R- Tifton, voted in support of the bill, saying Thursday that too many jobs in Southwest Georgia depended on agriculture to play political games with the legislation.

"I voted today in support of Georgia's farmers and the one in seven Georgians whose livelihoods are directly linked to the agriculture industry," Scott wrote. "The FARRM Act would have made significant reforms to commodity programs, while also cutting $2 billion annually from food stamps and implementing much-needed reforms to the SNAP program. Unfortunately, the liberal policies put in place by Pelosi and Washington Democrats in 2008 will remain the law of the land and federal spending will continue to increase unless another bill is passed."

Scott joined fellow Georgia Republicans Jack Kingston, Lynn Westmoreland and Rob Woodall and Georgia Democrat John Barrow in voting for the bill.

In the ag community, farmers voiced disappointment in Washington's inability to get a viable bill passed.

Armond Morris, a Southwest Georgia farmer and chairman of the Georgia Peanut Commission, praised Ag Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Ranking Member Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn., for their work putting together what he said was fair legislation.

"We felt like the House and Senate ag committees had done a great job crafting a bill that was fair even though they had cuts that we weren't particularly happy about," Morris said. "As you can imagine, the farmers in the fields throughout Georgia are frustrated. We've been looking for a farm bill for a while."

Without a bill, farmers are strained to be able to plan their crops and, as Morris pointed out in his interview with The Herald, farming isn't a year-to-year profession.