By TED MONOSON | Billings Gazette Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON—Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and a bipartisan group of other lawmakers Wednesday called for an end to the ban on American travel in Cuba.
Provisions that would prohibit the Bush administration from spending money to enforce the ban have been attached to the Senate and House versions of the Transportation Department’s 2004 spending bill.
Lawmakers are trying to reconcile the differences between the two versions and Baucus, Enzi and the other lawmakers gathered to call for the inclusion of the provision in the final bill.
“To remove this language during the conference committee would allow the conferees to wield undue power and influence over our Cuba policy,” Enzi said. “The House-Senate conferees should support the wishes of majorities in both houses and keep the travel language.”
For several years, House members have voted to end the ban, but this year marks the first time the issue has been backed by the Senate, which voted 59-38 to include the provision prohibiting the spending of money to enforce the travel ban.
In the past, the Bush administration has threatened to veto bills that included similar provisions, but they have not specifically weighed in on the inclusion of the provision in the Transportation Department spending bill.
“I suspect the strong vote sent a message to the administration,” Baucus said. “They are surprised.”
Enzi also is optimistic that the administration will have a change of heart.
“I expect the administration is having second thoughts,” the former Gillette mayor said. “If not, they should.”
Enzi noted that if President Bush vetoed the bill it would be his first veto.
“I suspect the president would not want to use his first veto on the transportation appropriations,” Enzi said. “I suspect the reason I have not heard anything about the veto since it was a strong vote and identical to the House provision.”