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By Charles Abbott
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican budget-cutters joined with Democratic defenders of food stamps on Thursday to deal a shocking defeat to the proposed $500 billion, five-year farm bill backed by Republican leaders, undermining hopes of enacting such legislation before the current stop-gap law expires.
"Today's failure leaves the entire food and agriculture sector in the lurch," the American Soybean Association, a group which represents growers, said in a statement.
Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said there may not be another chance to craft a farm bill this year.
The level of funding for food stamps for low-income Americans was the major issue for the farm bill. Lucas' bill called for the largest cuts in food stamps in a generation.
The Senate passed a bill last week that proposed a $4 billion cut, compared to the $20 billion cut of the House bill. The cuts in the House legislation would have ended benefits to 2 million people, or about 4 percent of enrollment.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor blamed Democrats for the outcome, saying they were not interested in consensus.
Steny Hoyer, the assistant Democratic leader, said the bill failed because Republicans insisted on "egregious" changes to food stamps.
All but two dozen Democrats in the House voted against the bill. The biggest surprise was that about one quarter of the Republican majority also voted no, in most instances because they wanted the bill to include deeper cuts to food stamps and other programs than proposed. The 234-195 vote undermined hopes of enacting a farm bill before the current stop-gap law expires in the fall.
Moments before defeat, Lucas appealed to his colleagues, "Vote with me to move this forward ... if it fails today, I cannot guarantee you'll see in this session another attempt."
"I am glad we stood up for children," said Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, after the vote.
The bill died in the House in 2012 in an election-year gridlock that also revolved mostly around food stamp cuts.
The just-passed Senate farm bill proposed $24 billion in savings, half of it from traditional crop subsidies. Both bills proposed to cut conservation programs by $6 billion while streamlining them.
And both would expand the taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance program, including policies for cotton and peanut growers to protect them from fluctuations in crop revenue.
(Reporting by Charles Abbott, Editing by Ros Krasny and Sofina Mirza-Reid)