NASHVILLE — Democrat Eric Stewart charged Friday that U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., is showing "complete disregard" to farmers in the 4th Congressional District by refusing to debate him.
Instead, Stewart said, DesJarlais is presiding over a mostly empty U.S. House in Washington, D.C.
Stewart charged in a news release that DesJarlais "betrayed" Tennessee farmers this spring by voting to cut $60 billion from the Department of Agriculture, showing he isn't interested in agricultural issues.
He said DesJarlais, who is from Jasper, Tenn., went to Washington "because he doesn't want to listen to the concerns from people in his district that are not happy about his votes to raise the Social Security retirement age to 70 and his votes against giving our military a pay raise."
DesJarlais was on a flight out of Washington late Friday afternoon and unavailable for comment.
But in a column this week, DesJarlais said the House session keeps President Barack Obama from making recess appointments without congressional consent.
He created a stir Friday during the session when he silenced two Democratic House members who wanted to complain about a "do-nothing Congress" and inaction on a major farm bill, The National Journal reported.
Presiding over the session, DesJarlais slammed his gavel, a sign to shut off the C-SPAN signal. That prompted protests from Democrats and shouts about the nation's "fiscal cliff" and the farm bill, the publication reported.
According to The National Journal, DesJarlais walked off, leaving Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, shouting about the fiscal cliff and the farm bill.
"We're about to go over a cliff. We need to stay in session," Cummings said from the floor. "Mr. Speaker, please don't leave. Don't leave, Mr. Speaker."
In response to DesJarlais' actions, Stewart said, "today we learned that it's not just voters in the district, he won't even listen to his colleagues in Congress that wanted to speak about the issues facing our farmers."
The House's five-year $500 billion farm bill stalled amid a split between GOP conservatives, who wanted deeper cuts in the food stamps program, and moderate Republicans, according to news reports. The bill, which would cut some $35 billion, came out of committee. About $16 billion in cuts were for food assistance.
The farm bill expired Oct. 1, but The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, and other media have reported that most crops and food supports won't be immediately affected. Lawmakers expect to return to the issue in the post-election "lame duck" session.
The House is out until after the Nov. 6 election, but members can hold a session at which no formal business is conducted.
DesJarlais said in a statement that, if the two Democrats "were really serious about working on these issues," they should contact Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "and ask them to return to Washington to consider the 30 House-passed jobs bills languishing in the Senate rather than engage in political theater."
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...