More on Round Two

Friday, September 24, 2010
From Congressional Quarterly:

Easing of Cuba Embargo Scheduled for House Panel Markup

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard L. Berman has scheduled a long-anticipated markup of a bill to lift restrictions on travel to Cuba, a sign House Democrats are prepared to move forward on easing elements of the 50-year-old embargo against the communist nation.

But it is unclear if Berman has the votes to move the bill out of committee.

The legislation (HR 4645) would end a ban on most travel to Cuba that was first put in place as part of an economic embargo by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. It also would end a requirement embedded in federal law (PL 106-387) that restricts some agricultural exports to Cuba.

Sponsored by Agriculture Chairman Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., the bill narrowly passed his committee in June and was referred to the Foreign Affairs and Financial Services committees. The latter has ceded jurisdiction.

Backers of the bill have maintained that Berman is eager to move the bill but has been waiting to see if he had the votes.

That was also the belief of Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking member on Foreign Affairs and a staunch opponent of easing any elements of the embargo.

In an interview earlier this month, Ros-Lehtinen said if Berman and fellow supporters of the bill had "the votes in the Foreign Affairs Committee, we would be voting on it tomorrow."

"The reason that they have not had the vote yet is because they lack the firm votes," she said at the time.

One House aide said that putting the markup on the calendar was not necessarily a signal that Berman now has the votes. "We have one week of session left," the aide observed, so Berman's rationale could be, "send out the notice with the hope you get the votes. And if you don't have the votes, you cancel."

"I think that's still a real possibility," the aide said.

One of the bill's backers outside Congress who has been tracking the likely votes said that the whip count for the bill is currently "about even" and advocates are still working to shore up support.

A spokesman for Ros-Lehtinen said Thursday that she had been blindsided by Berman's decision to schedule a markup and maintained that it was not a good time to ease up on Cuba, which is facing increasing economic and political pressure.

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