In Iowa, Obama to announce $170 million in drought relief

The Obama administration announced Monday that it will make up to $170 million in new purchases to assist farmers struggling through the worst drought in years.

President Obama will discuss the purchases of catfish, chicken, lamb and pork on Monday as he beings a campaign tour through Iowa, both a swing state and an agricultural center.

The purchases, which will be made by the Agriculture Department and will help stock food banks and other aid programs, come after Obama has urged Congress to pass a farm bill, which he says would be the best method for helping those hurt by what has been a historic drought.

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The president’s announcement will come in a state that both sides hope to put in their column come November. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the GOP candidate for vice president, is also scheduled to hit the stump in Iowa on Monday.

Even before the president's remarks, the Obama campaign sought to hit Ryan on the issue of the farm bill, with campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki saying Ryan had not taken steps to move the legislation forward. 

The president will continue the push for a farm bill during his three-day swing through Iowa, which ends Wednesday, and has already put into place smaller steps such as increasing farmers’ access to water and other emergency measures.

Obama will also reportedly instruct the Pentagon to urge its vendors to buy beef, pork and lamb more quickly, and then freeze it for later use.

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.

“President Obama and I will continue to take swift action to get help to America's farmers and ranchers through this difficult time,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a Monday statement.

“These purchases will assist pork, catfish, chicken and lamb producers who are currently struggling due to challenging market conditions and the high cost of feed resulting from the widespread drought.”

Congress left for its recess earlier this month without hashing out an agreement on either a farm bill or drought assistance.

House GOP leaders did not bring up a broader farm bill passed by its agriculture panel before leaving, suggesting they did not believe the measure had the votes to make it through the chamber.

But the House did push through a more modest drought relief measure, which the Senate decided against voting on. The Senate passed its own bipartisan farm bill, which included disaster relief measures, earlier this year.

House Speaker John Boehner's office said in a Monday blog post that Obama could best help struggling farmers and ranchers by getting Senate Democrats to pass his chamber's narrower drought bill.

As the post notes, Boehner himself made a similar point during his own recent stop in Iowa.

"You know the president – he’s going to be here in a couple of days," Boehner said. "Some of you might want to remind him when he comes that the House passed a bill last week to help those in the livestock industry.”

— This story was posted at 10:12 a.m. and updated at 12:56 p.m.