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Obama hits Ryan on farm bill


COUNCIL BLUFFS, IA -- President Obama today kicked off his three-day Iowa campaign tour by taking on Paul Ryan directly, branding Mitt Romney's running mate as the embodiment of House Republican refusal to pass a farm bill that would help states like Iowa.

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President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign stop at Bayliss Park August 13 in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Obama told 4,500 supporters in the picturesque Bayliss Park here that “things are tough right now” for farmers and ranchers in Iowa, where more than half the state is engulfed in “moderate” level drought according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Democrats are trying to capitalize on Paul Ryan's proposed Medicare cuts and tax cuts for the rich, and rid the Romney campaign of its surge in energy since announcing the VP pick. Jen Psaki, traveling press secretary for the Obama campaign, discusses.

He lamented the fact that Congress has not yet voted to reauthorize the farm bill, which provides federal funding for agriculture production as well as for food stamps programs -- a version is currently stalled in the House -- and sought to lay blame at the foot of Ryan.

“Too many members of Congress are blocking the farm bill from becoming law,” the president said, including Ryan, whom Obama called “one of the 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 its rural communities,” he continued.

Obama added that his administration is working to boost the agriculture sector, with vendors from the Defense and Agriculture departments purchasing up to $170 million of beef, pork lamb and catfish to freeze for later use.

Some Republicans have expressed reservations about the Senate’s farm bill because it proposes $16 billion in food stamps cuts, which Democrats have decried as too much. But Republicans say the cuts do not go far enough given Ryan’s budget proposal -- in which the food benefits are cut by $33 billion. 

The House had previously passed a drought relief measure that the Senate did not take up, choosing instead to wait for the House to take up its bill.

House Speaker John Boehner's office released this statement: “The Democratic-controlled Senate left town for August without taking action on a drought aid bill that passed the House with bipartisan support, including the support of Chairman Ryan. The weak attempt by the White House to manufacture a controversy illustrates the president’s desperation to change the subject to anything other than his failures on jobs and the economy.”

And the Romney campaign defended Ryan’s position on farm assistance, with campaign spokesman Ryan Williams saying in a statement, “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.”

The president is now heading northeast to Boone, in the center of the state –- a county he won 53%-45% in 2008.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney returned to the trail Monday in the key swing state of Florida, while his new running mate Paul Ryan canvassed Iowa – the same state President Obama was visiting. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.