Berman Postpones Cuba Vote, Senate Weighs in - Where's the White House?
Yesterday afternoon, the House Foreign Affairs Committee postponed a much-anticipated vote on legislation that would end the Cuba travel ban and ease restrictions on food exports to the island. In a statement Committee Chairman Howard Berman said:
“The Committee had been scheduled to consider this legislation tomorrow, but it now appears that Wednesday will be the last day that Congress is in session before an extended district work period. That makes it increasingly likely that our discussion of the bill will be disrupted or cut short by votes or other activity on the House floor. Accordingly, I am postponing consideration of H.R. 4645 until a time when the Committee will be able to hold the robust and uninterrupted debate this important issue deserves. I firmly believe that when we debate and vote on the merits of this legislation, and I intend for it to be soon, the right to travel will be restored to all Americans.”
Unfortunately, Berman simply ran out of time. Which is all the more disappointing when you take into account the leviathon coalition put together by the bill's main sponsor, Collin Peterson, and then expanded by Berman in the months following Peterson's June markup of the bill. In the 48 hours before the expected vote alone, supporters were everywhere at once. Tuesday, a group of retired high-ranking military officials sent a letter to the Committee urging it to repeal the travel ban, the National Farmers Union reminded the Committee of its support for the bill, and human rights watchdogs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch - whom you might expect to take the opposing view - sent appeals to the Committee in favor of the bill. Yesterday, General Paul Eaton (ret.), a senior advisor to the National Security Network, penned a pro-travel rights commentary for The Hill, and Cuba Study Group Chairman Carlos Saladrigas of Miami authored a stirring opinion in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (the paper read by new Rep. Ted Deutsch and his constituents). And General John Adams (ret.) penned a persuasive column in today's Rockford Register Star (the hometown paper of one of the committee's members). And those are just the endorsements that I came across.
So where does all that momentum go from here? Two thoughts. On a conference call with bloggers two weeks ago, Berman acknowledged he was running up against the clock by trying to bring the bill through his committee before the elections. He also acknowledged that depending on the outcome of the midterm elections, Cuba action could get lost in the rush to pack up, move out and move in new members. But he also posited that with the election pressures past them, the outgoing Congress could yet put Cuba on the docket during the lame duck session in November/December. It's hard to imagine, but then again, I never thought I'd see a markup in the Agriculture Committee the summer before the elections, either. Berman clearly understands there's a window of opportunity here on Cuba, and wants to take advantage of it. So, we'll have to wait a few weeks to see whether Berman can bring the bill back to life.
But, with Berman's postponement eyes - and pressure - will surely turn back to the White House, where it's rumored new rules to re-institute Clinton era Cuba travel rules are stuck. Yesterday, led by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, 24 senators sent a letter to President Obama urging him to use his authority to allow broader people-to-people travel to Cuba, and to fix two rules that add cost and delay to U.S. food exports to Cuba (Baucus has a bill that, like the Peterson bill Berman was planning to consider in his committee today, would fix the rules and lift the travel ban). With so much news coming out of Cuba, it's truly inconceivable that the United States has not responded in any meaningful way to the very changes our President and our policymakers in Congress have been demanding Cuba start to make.
|092710 US Military Leaders Letter to HFAC.pdf||69.02 KB|
|092710 NFU Support Cuba Trade_House Foreign Affairs.pdf||36.87 KB|