Obama calls on Congress to pass stalled farm bill

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Obama made the comments at a meeting with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Small Business Administrator Karen Mills on the drought.

The House last week passed an emergency drought relief bill by a slim margin but the Senate, preferring to focus on a five-year farm program overhaul, declined to take up the measure.

The House bill would have extended livestock and tree-grower disaster aid programs that expired in 2011, and House Republicans said the Senate would have to answer for the suffering by farmers and ranchers.

House leaders, however, have been unwilling to bring up a House Agriculture Committee-passed five-year bill, which includes disaster aid and expanded crop insurance, despite its $35 billion in deficit cuts.

The bill cuts food stamps in a way that has proven too little for conservatives and too much for liberal Democrats. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week that he has not seen the 218 votes needed for passage.

The Senate passed its own bill, cutting $23 billion from the deficit, by a wide margin.

Obama noted the "good bipartisan work done in the Senate," and said he hopes August recess will pressure Congress to finish the job.

"Now is the time for us to come together and go ahead and get this done. And my hope is that Congress, many of whom will be traveling back to their districts, in some cases in rural communities, and see what’s taking place there, will feel a greater sense of urgency and be prepared to get this done immediately upon their return," he said.

At the meeting, Obama announced a series of smaller emergency steps to help farmers. These included expanded small business lending and technical assistance.

"This has been an all hands on deck response," Obama said. "But obviously we have a lot more to do."

The Agriculture Department will now give $16 million in emergency funds drought-stricken farmers and livestock producers. It also will free up $14 million for conservation programs intended to keep livestock healthy by increasing preservation of, and access to, pasture land and water.

The drought has led to increased opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) renewable fuel standard (RFS).

The RFS requires refiners to blend 13.2 billion gallons of domestic corn ethanol into traditional transportation fuel this year.

Lawmakers and livestock groups have in recent weeks called on the EPA to waive the RFS because they say the rule has exacerbated drought conditions by using corn for fuel, in turn driving up feed costs for livestock.

Zack Colman contributed.