NASHVILLE - Democrat Eric Stewart charged today that U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., is showing "complete disregard" to farmers in the 4th Congressional District by refusing to debate him and instead presiding over a mostly empty U.S. House in a pro forma session in Washington, D.C.
And DesJarlais, who is from Jasper, Tenn., created a stir Friday during the pro forma 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.
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 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."
And, he went on, "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."
DesJarlais could not immediately be reached for comment.
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."
The House can hold a pro forma session at which no formal business is conducted, the purpose often is to meet a constitutional directive "that neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other."
According to news accounts, 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. 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.