Thu Nov 10, 7:51 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Final negotiations between the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives on a bill to fund the Transportation and Treasury Departments snagged on Thursday over food sales to Cuba.
Rep. Joseph Knollenberg, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House transportation appropriations subcommittee, said the Cuba provision and language on business reforms for the national passenger rail service, Amtrak, were the only outstanding issues in $141 billion legislation.
The disagreement over Amtrak—whose president, David Gunn, was fired on Wednesday in a dispute over plans to restructure the railroad—is likely to be resolved quickly. Gunn was at odds with the Bush administration and Amtrak’s board and accused them of wanting to bankrupt the railroad.
Amtrak is slated to receive more than $1.3 billion this fiscal year.
Knollenberg had hoped to wrap up negotiations on the massive bill on Thursday. And with lawmakers out of town for the Veterans Day holiday on Friday no agreement was expected before next week.
Both houses passed measures this year to overturn a Treasury Department ruling that U.S. farm and trade groups say has slashed agricultural exports to Cuba by making it more difficult for the Communist-ruled nation to pay for shipments.
Congress authorized food sales to Cuba in 2000 if Havana paid in cash, an exception to the four-decade-old U.S. trade embargo. But a Treasury Department rule issued in February requires Cuba to pay for American goods before they leave a U.S. port.
Farm sales to Cuba have slipped. Sales were $261 million between January and September this year compared with $392 million for 2004, according to tracking by the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
House members of the transportation conference committee voted overwhelmingly to maintain the rule, while Senate counterparts voted to drop it. The split created deadlock and a new round of closed-door talks.
Knollenberg stressed the White House had made it clear President George W. Bush would veto the bill if the pre-payment provision for Cuba was overturned. Senate lawmakers were firm, with Democrats saying Bush has yet to veto a bill and was unlikely to derail the spending plan over one provision.