WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 — The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 13-5 on Thursday to lift the travel ban to Cuba, as the fight to eliminate the 42-year-old prohibition gathered steam in Congress.
The bill, proposed by Wyoming Republican Sen. Mike Enzi, is now ready for a vote on the Senate floor. The Bush administration has repeatedly said it would veto any Cuba initiatives that chipped away at the embargo.
The bill’s opponents attempted to attach four amendments, all of which failed. One would have conditioned eliminating the travel prohibition to Cuba’s Fidel Castro first freeing 75 dissidents, jailed earlier this year and sentenced to long prison terms.
That amendment also lost by a 13-5 margin.
Senators did agree to include a provision that instructs the State Department to issue a report every six months on Cuba’s financing of terrorism. The report’s conclusion, however, would not have any impact on the travel ban itself.
The Cuba issue has sharply split Congress, with a small but powerful Cuban community in Florida lobbying hard to kill any efforts to ease the embargo.
‘‘It’s not about Cuba,’’ said Sen. Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat and travel ban foe. ‘‘It’s about domestic politics.’’
Sen. George Allen, a Virginia Republican, said Cuba practiced a ‘‘tourism apartheid,’’ where visitors were herded into beach resorts where they had little interaction with local Cubans, failing to make Cuba more democratic.
Sen. Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat, asked if ‘‘anybody thinks that Cuba is one-one hundredth more dangerous than North Korea,’’ which Americans can legally visit.
The vote came as travel ban supporters and critics squared off for a crucial conference committee decision on an amendment that would stop funding to enforce the ban from a bigger Treasury and transportation appropriation bill.
The committee’s decision is expected later this month, potentially forcing U.S. President George W. Bush to exercise a veto for the first time in his administration.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican, said that his staff was working with other Florida lawmakers as well as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, on defeating the amendment stopping funding to enforce the ban. ‘‘I feel relatively confident it’s going to happen,’’ he added.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican, said that his staff was working with other Florida lawmakers as well as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, to defeat the amendment stopping funding to enforce the ban. ‘‘I feel relatively confident it’s going to happen,’’ he said.