Jack Kingston backs Farm Bill, but it fails anyway

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House failed to pass its Farm Bill on Thursday, as liberals and conservatives formed a critical mass to keep the nation's farm and nutrition programs in limbo. Republican Jack Kingston of Savannah was among just five of 14 Georgians to vote for the bill -- swimming against a Senate race tide that is pulling the GOP candidates to more conservative corners.

Kingston bucked conservative pressure from Americans for Prosperity and Heritage Action, among others, to vote "no" as his Senate foes Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey did. The other Georgians in favor were John Barrow, an Augusta Democrat; Austin Scott, a Tifton Republican; Lynn Westmoreland, a Coweta County Republican; and Rob Woodall, a Lawrenceville Republican.

Kingston said that the bill's $20 billion in food stamp cuts and a floor amendment he backed to create a food stamp work requirement -- mirroring the 1996 welfare reform -- made it worthy of support, as did its agriculture reforms.

“Agriculture is a $71.1 billion annual economic impact in our state and employs 6 in 10 Georgians,” Kingston said in a statement.  “This legislation is of vital importance to Georgia agriculture because it provides certainty over the next five years.  While of great importance to farmers, it ensures they have skin in the game by cutting farm subsidies by $23 billion and replacing direct payments with a more cost-effective crop insurance program.”

In all the bill saved $33.3 billion against future deficit projections (not including cuts already coming from sequestration), but most Democrats said it slashed food stamps too much and conservative groups said it was too generous to the food stamp program and farm subsidies. The Senate passed a bill that is kinder to food stamps (with a $17.8 billion deficit savings) earlier this month, with the support of Georgia Republicans Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson.

The final tally was 195 to 234. Twenty-four Democrats joined 171 Republicans voting for the bill, while 62 Republicans and 172 Democrats voted no. As it became clear the bill was losing, the House floor became unusually silent, with big cheers from Democrats when the bill failed. The top three Republicans -- Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Whip Kevin McCarthy -- huddled, sour-faced, on the floor at one point, but there was no way to flip enough votes.

Not long after the final gavel, a spokeswoman for McCarthy burst into a knot of reporters in the Speaker's Lobby off the floor and declared the 24-vote Democratic showing "pathetic," blaming Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for scuttling what is typically a bipartisan bill. But Republicans had tacked too far to the right to attract enough Democrats, said Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the Agriculture Committee's top Democrat, who helped negotiate the bill and voted for it.

"You take things too far and sometimes it blows up on you," Peterson said.

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