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Alabama delegation votes 6-1 along party lines in unexpected defeat of farm bill

WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives defeated the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act, better known as the Farm Bill, by a 195-234 margin on Thursday despite the Alabama delegation voting for it 6-1, with the lone dissenter being Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham.

The bill had been expected to pass, with some Democratic help in the House. But with tougher restrictions on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, an aggressive lobbying effort by the House Democratic leadership and the White House resulted in many Democrats defecting.

House Republican leadership also lost 62 members of their caucus, who said the bill’s reforms did not do enough to limit spending. Grassroots conservative organizations including Club for Growth and Heritage Action engaged in an extensive PR campaigns against the bill.

Martha Roby, R- Montgomery, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, had been outspoken proponent of the legislation’s reforms, which she explained in an op-ed published in the Montgomery Advertiser earlier this week. She expressed her dismay immediately after the vote.

“The spenders won,” Roby said in a statement. “They dodged a major reform to the unrestrained government spending policies left over from the Pelosi Congress. For more than two years we’ve been working on a new Farm Bill that would meet this country’s agricultural and economic needs while enacting long-needed reforms to farm and food stamp policy. While not perfect, the Farm Bill that died today represents a missed opportunity to save taxpayers $40 billion through responsible improvements to current law. Now, with no Farm Bill, costly programs like food stamps will continue with no savings at all, and that’s a shame.”

Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies, also expressed disappointed in the outcome of the vote.

“Today’s vote was about protecting Alabama farmers, making meaningful reforms to our nation’s agriculture and nutrition programs, and doing so while reigning in federal spending,” Aderholt said to Yellowhammer through an email from a representative. “The FARRM Act would have done all of those things. This bill would have saved taxpayers nearly $40 billion, by taking a market approach to agriculture policy and through much needed reform to food stamp programs. Though I remain committed to reducing federal spending, our divided government limits those opportunities and today truly was an opportunity missed.”

Sewell, the state’s lone “no” vote, explained her decision by saying the bill failed to strike a proper “balance” between recipients of SNAP benefits and farmers in Alabama’s 7th congressional district.

“While I am supportive of a five year farm bill extension, I voted against H.R. 1947 today because this bill did not strike the balance needed to protect the farmers in my district as well as those in Alabama who depend on nutrition assistance,” Sewell said in a statement. “This bill would have had devastating consequences for more than 913,000 families in Alabama who depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP has saved millions of lives and currently provides essential support to over 160,000 individuals in my district in Alabama alone.”

The vote is seen by some as a major defeat for House Speaker John Boehner and the House Republican leadership. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor blamed his counterpart, Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, for the bill’s defeat.

“I’m extremely disappointed that Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership have at the last minute chosen to derail years of bipartisan work on the Farm Bill and related reforms,” he said in a statement. “This bill was far from perfect, but the only way to achieve meaningful reform, such as Congressman [Steve] Southerland’s amendment reforming the food stamp program, was in conference.”

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