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GOP-led House votes to keep restrictions on travel to Cuba

GOP-led House votes to keep restrictions on travel to Cuba
BY ANDREW TAYLOR
Associated Press

House Republicans voted Thursday to keep restrictions on Americans
seeking to travel to Cuba, a setback to Obama administration efforts to
ease the five-decade Cold War standoff.

The Republican-controlled chamber voted 247-176 to keep a Cuba-related
provision in a transportation funding bill. The provision would block
new rules issued in January that would significantly ease travel
restrictions to Cuba and allow regularly scheduled flights for the first
time.

The administration rules lifted a requirement that U.S. travelers obtain
a license from the Treasury Department before traveling to Cuba.
Instead, all that is required is for travelers to assert that their trip
would serve educational, religious or other permitted purposes.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill, in part because of the
Cuba-related provision. The measure is also caught in a battle between
Republicans controlling Congress and the White House and its Democratic
allies over spending levels for domestic agencies. The White House has
issued a blanket veto threat against every GOP spending bill, and Senate
Democrats weighed in on Thursday with explicit promises that they will
filibuster the measures and block them from reaching Obama’s desk.

The Republican-backed Cuba provision is the handiwork of Rep. Mario
Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American Republican from the Miami area.

Diaz-Balart said the Obama administration is wrong to lift the travel
restrictions, noting that the flights would land at an airport that was
partially owned by U.S. interests when it was seized by the Castro
government.

“What you are saying is, ‘It’s OK to do business on property that was
stolen from Americans,'” Diaz-Balart said.

But to most Democrats and a handful of House Republicans, the travel ban
is an obsolete Cold War remnant.

“We need a 21st century approach to this nation 90 miles away from our
shores. This is 2015 … not 1960,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.,
whose attempt to strip Diaz-Balart’s provision from the transportation
appropriations measure failed. “The rest of the world is doing business
with Cuba, allows its citizens to travel to Cuba and also has normal
diplomatic relations with Cuba.”

The GOP plan would thwart the new flights but leave in place new rules
permitting the import of limited amounts of goods like cigars and rum.

Neither the travel restrictions nor a longstanding trade embargo has
moved the Castro government toward democracy.

Agriculture organizations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other
business interests have expressed support for the administration’s
outreach to Cuba.

In the Senate, Democrats on Thursday threatened to block defense and
other appropriations bills in hopes of forcing Republicans to the
negotiating table for talks to replace automatic spending cuts known as
sequestration slated to hit both the Pentagon and domestic agencies.

Democrats are also opposed to a $612 billion defense policy bill
currently on the floor that does an end run around government spending
caps that became law a few years ago. The bill calls for increasing
defense spending by putting nearly $40 billion into a war-fighting
account that is not subject to the spending caps.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats would block “any
appropriations bill until Republicans have sat down at the table and
figured out with us how we’re going to properly fund the Defense
Department and key (domestic) priorities.”

Source: GOP-led House votes to keep restrictions on travel to Cuba |
Miami Herald Miami Herald –
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/article23094399.html

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