President Obama on Saturday pledged an “all-hands-on-deck response” to the severe drought affecting much of the country and pressed Congress to pass a farm bill to aid hard-hit ranchers and farmers.
“More than a fifth of this country is experiencing what we call ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional’ drought,” said Obama in his weekly address, noting that July was “the warmest month on record.”
“That’s bad news for a lot of people, but it’s especially tough on our farmers,” he said. “Half of the corn crop in America is in poor or very poor condition. Cattle farmers are struggling to feed their animals. Many folks are seeing their livelihoods dry up in front of their eyes. And if we don’t get relief soon, Americans everywhere will start feeling the pinch, with higher prices on grocery store shelves all across the country.”
Obama said he had directed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to direct agencies across government to “make sure we’re doing everything we can to help farmers and ranchers fight back and recover from this disaster.”
“We’ve given farmers across 32 states access to low-interest emergency loans. We’ve opened up more federal land for grazing. And we’re working with crop insurance companies to give farmers a short grace period on their premiums, since some families will be struggling to make ends meet at the end of the year,” he added, touting the administration’s efforts.
Obama also put pressure on lawmakers to act.
“They need to pass a farm bill that not only helps farmers and ranchers respond to these kinds of disasters, but also makes necessary reforms and gives them some certainty year-round. That’s the single best way we can help rural communities right now, and also in the long-term,” he said.
The president asked voters to contact their lawmakers and “tell them that now is the time to come together and get this done.”
The House last week approved a $383 million drought aid bill after Republicans were unable to bring up a multi-year farm bill before the August recess.
The long-term farm bill faced opposition from conservative lawmakers who said it was too costly and from Democrats who objected to cuts for the food stamps program.
But the House drought disaster bill faces an uncertain future. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has not said if he will take up the measure in September and environmental groups and farm groups have criticized the legislation.
Green groups say they oppose the bill because it cuts conservation programs to pay for the disaster relief, while farm groups believe it distracts from their goal of a full five-year farm bill.
“I’ll keep doing everything I can to help respond to this disaster. Because at times like these, it doesn’t matter if you live in Des Moines or Detroit – we’re Americans first,” said Obama, who concluded his address by reminding the public to “stay cool.”
Data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week said July was the hottest month on record in the contiguous United States, making the first seven months of 2012 the warmest since record-keeping began.