Kicking off a three-day bus tour of Iowa, President Barack Obama accused newly minted Republican vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan of "standing in the way" of legislation meant to help farmers and ranchers struggling in the face of the worst drought in a half-century. Obama also unveiled a $170 million package to help the battered agricultural sector.
"I know things are tough right now," Obama told supporters in Council Bluffs, Iowa, underlining that the farm bill was "the best way" to help those hurt by the lack of rainfall.
"Unfortunately, right now, too many members of Congress are blocking the farm bill from becoming law," the president said to an audience of 4,300 people. "I am told Gov. Romney's new running mate, Paul Ryan, might be around Iowa these next few days. And he's one of those leaders of Congress standing in the way."
"So if you happen to see Congressman Ryan, tell him how important this farm bill is to Iowa and our rural communities. We've got to put politics aside when it comes to doing the right thing for rural America and for Iowa," Obama said.
Ryan, whom Romney formally anointed his running mate on Saturday, was in Iowa on a solo campaign swing. A spokesman rejected Obama's accusation, underlining that the Wisconsin lawmaker voted earlier this month for a Republican-crafted short-term drought relief bill.
"Paul Ryan hails from an agriculture state and supported disaster relief, and the truth is no one will work harder to defend farmers and ranchers than the Romney-Ryan ticket," said Brendan Buck, a campaign spokesman for the vice presidential hopeful.
"After nearly four years of failure, it's no wonder that Barack Obama returns to the state that launched his presidential campaign with nothing more than broken promises and false attacks. Iowans deserve better, and as president Mitt Romney will strengthen middle class families in the heartland, create jobs and turn our economy around," Buck said.
Ryan voted for the Republican version of a short-term drought relief package that cleared the House of Representatives earlier this month, only to stall in the Democratic-led Senate. The Senate had previously approved a five-year package, and Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow objected to the narrower GOP-authored measure, which would extend benefits to a limited number of farmers.
Obama also announced that the Department of Agriculture will buy $170 million worth of meat, poultry and fish (about $100 million of pork products, $50 million of chicken and $10 million each of lamb and farm-raised catfish).
And the president directed the Department of Defense to "encourage" its vendors to speed up purchases of beef, pork and lamb, and freeze them for later, the official said on condition he not be named. The Pentagon buys about 95 million pounds of beef, 65 million pounds of pork and 500,000 pounds of lamb annually.
"This is a win-win," an administration official said. "Farmers and ranchers will have an opportunity to sell more of their products at this critical time, and taxpayers will get better prices on food that would have been purchased later."
The executive action—and the attack on Ryan—reprised a favorite Obama campaign theme: that the polarized gridlock in the deeply unpopular Congress is holding up common-sense actions to help Americans.
Obama will get a first-hand look at the drought's devastating impact by visiting a farm in Iowa's Missouri Valley.
Iowa has a special place in Obama's heart: His victory in the state's Democratic caucus in 2008 helped propel him to his upset triumph over Hillary Clinton. But recent polls show him in a dogfight with Romney.