In bid for Iowa, Obama rips Ryan for 'standing in way' of farm bill

President Obama on Monday ripped Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan for standing in the way of the farm bill.

Obama chose Iowa, where the farm bill is a priority, to make his pitch just days after Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney energized his party by picking Ryan as his running mate.

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“Too many members of Congress are blocking the farm bill from becoming law,” Obama said at a campaign event in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

“Gov. Romney’s new running mate … he is one of the leaders of Congress standing in the way. If you see him, tell him how important it is … tell him to put politics aside when it comes to doing the right thing for rural America and for Iowa.”

Iowa and other states in the Midwest are living through one of the worst droughts in recent memory, which has put added attention on the fight in Washington over a farm bill.

The Senate approved a bipartisan farm bill earlier this year that included disaster-relief measures, but GOP leaders in the House chose not to bring up a farm bill that could have divided Republicans. The House did move its own drought-relief measure through the chamber.

Romney spokesman Ryan Williams shot back at Obama, saying the president was launching “false attacks.”

“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,” he said in a statement.

“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,” he said. “Iowans deserve better. As president, Mitt Romney will strengthen middle-class families in the heartland, create jobs and turn our economy around.”

Obama and Ryan will come close to crossing paths on Monday during separate visits to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.

Obama announced he’d be stopping by the state’s largest annual event, which drew more than 1 million people last year, and will likely miss Ryan by only a couple of hours. Ryan is slated to make his first solo campaign appearance since joining Mitt Romney on the Republican presidential ticket at 2 p.m. on Monday.

While Iowa has only six electoral votes at stake, the competing visits show how important the state is to both campaigns in an election likely to be decided by only a handful of battleground states.

The Hawkeye State has particular resonance for Obama — during his historic 2008 run, it was his victory at Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses that catapulted him into the upper tier of Democratic presidential contenders.

“We’re in this together,” Obama said Monday. “That was at the heart of the journey that began here in Iowa five years ago … that campaign back in '07 and '08 had plenty of ups and downs … but you, the people of Iowa, had my back.

“When the pundits had written us off, when we were down in the polls [in the 2008 primaries] … it was on your front porches and your backyards where the movement for change in this country began,” Obama continued. “But our journey is not finished."

The president defeated Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by nearly 10 percent in the 2008 general election, but returns to find a considerably closer contest. While there has been little recent public polling of the state, Iowa is a true toss-up at this point — four of the last five public polls dating back to late May show Obama and Romney in a statistical dead heat, with the latest, a Rasmussen survey released last Friday, showing Romney with a 46-44 advantage.

Obama is bringing his wife, popular first lady Michelle Obama, along with him, and is spending an eye-popping three days in the critical battleground state.

“America depends on farmers and ranchers to put food on the table,” Obama said Monday in Iowa. “We’ve got to be there for them … every day until this drought passes because we are Americans and that’s what we do, we take care of each other, and when tough times strike our neighbors we give them a hand.”

Obama called Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, “the best we’ve ever had” before lauding the administration’s announcement Monday that it will make up to $170 million in new purchases to assist farmers.

The Agriculture Department’s purchases will include up to $100 million of pork products, up to $50 million in chicken and as much as $10 million apiece in lamb and catfish.

While the Romney campaign has hammered the president for his green energy policies, the Obama team thinks it has another winning issue in Iowa with its support for wind power.

Iowa’s economy has been buoyed by wind energy during a drought that has crippled the state’s agricultural industry. Farmers have increasingly relied on the steady profits provided by wind turbines to make up for the state’s devastated corn harvest. Iowa now ranks behind only Texas in installed wind generation capacity.

The wind energy production tax credit, slated to lapse at the end of the year, has contributed to the state’s wind energy success, and Obama is pushing Congress to extend the federal tax credit. Romney has said he would allow the subsidy to lapse as scheduled, a pledge that has drawn the ire of some conservatives, including Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R).

“Right now homegrown energy, things like wind energy, are creating new jobs all across states like Iowa,” Obama said. “Gov. Romney wants to end tax breaks for wind energy producers … America now produces twice as much energy from wind from when I took office … and supports about 7,000 jobs in Iowa … I think we should stop paying billions on oil subsidies and let's keep investing in clean energy … that’s a disagreement I have with Gov. Romney.”