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    Bid to tighten up Cuba travel dropped from budget bill,

    Posted on Thursday, 12.15.11

    Bid to tighten up Cuba travel dropped from budget bill

    Cuba was one of the last issues holding up a $1?trillion spending bill
    in the U.S. Congress. A bid to make it easier for Cuba to buy U.S.
    imports also fell.
    By Juan O. Tamayo

    Congressional leaders dropped both a measure to restrict Cuban-American
    travel and remittances to the island and another to make it easier for
    Cuba to buy U.S. goods, putting some of the final touches Thursday on a
    compromise $1 trillion spending bill..

    The agreement stripped a measure by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-South
    Florida, that would once again have limited "family reunification" trips
    to once every three years, capped remittances at $1,200 per year, and
    tightened the definition of "family," said Congressional aides.

    In exchange, the Congressional leadership also agreed to drop a measure
    by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., that would have eased a requirement that
    Cuba pay cash and in advance when buying U.S. goods permissible under
    the embargo, according to the aides.

    The Cuba issue was one of the last hurdles blocking consideration of the
    government spending bill. If the bitterly partisan Congress does not
    approve it by midnight Friday, major parts of the government would have
    to shut down.

    House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., agreed to the
    compromise on Cuba in exchange for a promise from Senate Majority Leader
    Harry Reid, D-Nevada, to allow the spending bill to be voted on Friday.

    House and Senate conferees had reached a compromise this week on a
    version of the bill, but Reid, responding to White House concerns, would
    not release it until the Cuba provisions and other issues, including
    some abortion regulations, were ironed out.

    If the Rogers-Reid understanding falls through, the House Republican
    majority could push its own version of the spending bill, which would
    still retain the Cuba language, according to media reports Thursday.

    It was not immediately clear if House Republicans had enough votes to
    approve the unilateral version, or how the four Cuban-Americans in the
    House would vote. The three Republicans and one Democrat include Rep.
    Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-South Florida, powerful chair of the House
    Foreign Affairs Committee.

    A House committee approved the Diaz-Balart proposal in June by a voice
    vote — with no objections — as a rider to a Treasury spending bill. That
    bill was later joined with eight other spending bills and rolled into
    the $1 trillion measure now before Congress.

    Obama, who in 2009 lifted virtually all restrictions on travel and
    remittances by Cubans in the United States, threatened to veto the
    Florida Republican's rider a month later. But it was not until this week
    that Congressional infighting threw light on the issue.

    Supporters of restricted Cuba travel contend that the trips and cash are
    simply pumping more money into the coffers of Cuba's communist
    government at a time when it has stepped up repression of political
    dissidents and human-rights activists and holds U.S. government
    contractor Alan Gross in prison.

    But others argue that the visits help Cuban families reunite, and that
    the remittances help Cubans break free of their dependence on the
    government and even start private businesses, such as restaurants and
    carpentry shops.

    Havana blogger Yoani Sánchez tweeted that the Diaz-Balart measure would
    be "a terrible step backward" and blogger Orlando Luis Pardo, in another
    tweet addressed to Obama, wrote, "We await your veto."

    Dissident Havana economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe and his wife, Miriam
    Leiva, wrote in an Internet column Thursday that they opposed the
    Diaz-Balart measure because the remittances "help Cubans on the island
    who face serious shortages and misery."

    The spending bill would fund much of the government operations for the
    2012 fiscal year. The current continuing spending resolution — the
    latest of seven approved this year — is due to expire at midnight Friday.

    The White house has urged Congress that if it cannot adopt the full
    one-year spending bill to avert a government shutdown, it should pass
    another short-term resolution.