Cuba Travel Bill Won't Get Markup in House

Friday, November 19, 2010
From Congressional Quarterly:

Cuba Travel Bill Won't Get Markup in House

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will not mark up a bill this year to allow Americans to travel to Cuba, despite a pre-election statement from Chairman Howard L. Berman, D-Calif, that he was determined to move forward.

Asked Thursday if he still planned to hold a committee vote on the legislation (HR 4645), Berman shook his head and said "no," a decision confirmed by committee staff.

That puts a definitive end to what at one time were high hopes among advocates of engagement with Cuba for this Congress. And with Republicans winning the House in the November elections, and a supporter of the ban, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., expected to take over as chair of the committee next year, the prospects for progress in the new Congress are no better.

Americans are currently restricted from traveling to Cuba, except under very limited circumstances, as part of the nearly 50-year embargo put in place by President John F. Kennedy. President Obama's emphasis on engagement had earlier raised expectations among those seeking to end the embargo both on and off Capitol Hill.

House Agriculture Chairman Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., introduced a bill (HR 4645) and pushed it through his committee in the summer. In the Senate, Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., and Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., said they wanted a 2010 vote on a similar bill (S 428), claiming they had enough votes to pass it over a potential filibuster from opponents.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has jurisdiction over Peterson's bill, and Berman sought to mark it up during the September work period. However, he ended up announcing Sept. 28 that he was "postponing consideration . . . until a time when the committee will be able to hold the robust and uninterrupted debate this important issue deserves."

The next day, he told CQ that he remained determined to hold a committee vote during the lame duck session.

Peterson predicted in the fall that if the legislation got through the Foreign Affairs Committee, it could win a House floor vote.

But with the Democratic leadership in both chambers focused on other, more pressing priorities for the lame-duck work period — which has already gotten bogged down in partisan acrimony — there appears to be little reason for the committee to move forward on the divisive legislation now.

Copyright 2010 CQ-Roll Call, Inc.