Cattlemen confident TPP will get a vote this year

A powerful agricultural lobbying group predicted Wednesday that Congress will pass a sweeping Pacific Rim trade agreement before President Obama leaves office.

Kevin Kester, vice president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said his group is hearing positive feedback on Capitol Hill and that momentum is building behind approving the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement this year.

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"I think it’s going to be a tough road, but I think it’s doable and from what I hear from members on the Hill I think they’re probably going to keep their powder dry until later in the year but we’re going to push hard and let them know how important it is,” Kester said in a media call.

“I think we’ll be able to cross the goal line sometime this year,” he said.

More than 300 members of the cattlemen’s group are fanning out across Capitol Hill over the next couple of days to urge support for the TPP.

“I think we will get some positive feedback, and I think it will be more positive as the year goes along when members realize the importance of this and they’ll make the right decision in the end,” Kester said.

Earlier this week, 225 agriculture groups wrote a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to pass the TPP this year.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael B.G. FromanUS trade rep spent nearly M to furnish offices: report Overnight Finance: Trump hits China on currency manipulation, countering Treasury | Trump taps two for Fed board | Tax deadline revives fight over GOP overhaul | Justices set to hear online sales tax case Froman joins Mastercard to oversee global business expansion MORE said that the Obama administration also is getting positive feedback from lawmakers on the substance of the agreement between the United States and 11 other nations.

Still, trade politics are notoriously difficult and are made tougher in an election year that has stirred up anti-trade rhetoric.

But Froman said he remains optimistic that Congress will back the TPP.

“I think ultimately we're confident that Congress will approve it," he said.

Froman and Kester said the cost of delaying the TPP could be what finally sways lawmakers to back it.

“We have a lot to lose here by delay," Froman said. “We think there’s a lot at stake here and as a result that Congress ultimately act."

Kester pointed out that the TPP will significantly lower tariffs for U.S. beef in Japan, the industry's largest export market. 

But without the new arrangement, he said, U.S. beef faces a continued erosion of market share in the region as well as major economic losses.

The big question is when the TPP might come up for a vote on Capitol Hill. 

Froman said he is trying to work out lingering issues with lawmakers so they can move quickly when a window opens.

"Our view is we would like to get this done as early as possible," Froman said.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran On The Money: Treasury rejects Dem subpoena for Trump tax returns | Companies warn trade war about to hit consumers | Congress, White House to launch budget talks next week | Trump gets deal to lift steel tariffs on Mexico, Canada Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act MORE (R-Ky.) has said he doesn't intend to consider the TPP until a lame-duck session after the November elections.

Other leaders such as House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyHouse to vote on retirement bill next week House chairman issues subpoenas for Trump's tax returns Top Republican urges Dem chairman to drop Trump tax returns effort MORE (R-Texas) said he would prefer to pass the deal sooner if the White House resolves a handful of congressional issues. 

With the focus on the election year, there may not be many chances to take up the TPP before November.

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that Obama administration has a clear case — economically and strategically — as to why this deal makes sense for the United States.

"It may require some members of Congress tuning out the noise of the presidential election in order to focus on the merits of the agreement," Earnest said.

"When focused on the merits, we’ve got a particularly strong case."

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) is the only one of five remaining presidential candidates to express support for the TPP.

Also on Tuesday, Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryRubio asks Barr to investigate Kerry over Iran meetings Harris demands Barr clarify if Trump has asked him to investigate anyone Kerry fires back after Trump accuses him of violating the Logan Act: 'He's wrong' MORE said that the deal is "at the center of defending our strategic interests, deepening our diplomatic relationships, strengthening our national security and reinforcing our leadership across the globe."

“The choice for us is to lead and help define the rules of global trade or to witness the fastest-growing markets race to the bottom, while standards antithetical to our interests and values become business as usual for billions of people across our planet,” he said at the Pacific Council on International Policy.

“I can’t think of anything more dangerous or damaging to the rule of law since the end of World War II.”