LOLITA C. BALDOR | Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Legislation that would relax the ban on travel to Cuba is headed for failure even though it passed both the House and Senate.
Lawmakers said Wednesday that Republican leaders probably would strip the provision from a transportation funding bill during House and Senate negotiations so President Bush would not have to veto an important appropriations bill.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., a key negotiator who will help craft the final bill, wants the travel ban enforced and said, “Everyone is very aware of the veto threat.”
While declining to admit defeat, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said “A veto would create too much of a firestorm. They (Republican leaders) will find some other way to finesse it.”
The widely expected result is that when the House and Senate conferees meet to iron out differences in the two transportation bills, the Cuba provision will be quietly dropped or changed to render it impossible to enact.
That prospect angered lawmakers who said Wednesday that using travel restrictions to isolate Cuba has not worked in 40 years, and only more exposure to Americans will help promote Democracy in the communist country.
They also argued that deleting a provision passed in both chambers erodes the democratic process.
“Congress clearly has spoken,” said Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass. “If Republican leaders take this out it really abrogates the independence of the first branch of government.”
It is an awkward issue for Bush and the GOP.
“If he vetoes this over the Cuba language it makes him look like a captive of conservative Cuban Americans in south Florida,” said William Leogrande, a Cuba scholar and dean of the Public Affairs School at American University. “And if the language is just dropped, it looks like the Republicans are manipulating the process to ignore the majority will of both houses.”
According to polls and recent votes in Congress, support has grown for more interaction with Cuba. In parts of the Midwest there is increasing interest in agricultural trade with Cuba.
But in Florida, a state that delivered the presidency to Bush in 2000 and is politically critical for his re-election bid in 2004, conservative Cuban Americans staunchly oppose relaxing sanctions against Fidel Castro.
Shelby said it is “vital to American interests that we maintain a resolute policy toward Cuba.” And Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said backers of the travel ban will “fight to strip the language that increases revenues for the Cuban dictatorship.”
The legislation would prohibit the use of federal funds to enforce the travel ban.