U.S. lawmakers who want to lift a longstanding ban on travel to Cuba launched efforts on Wednesday to ensure congressional leaders do not kill the measure in a back room deal with the Bush administration.
The U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives have voted overwhelmingly to lift the ban by eliminating any funding to enforce it. However, President George W. Bush has threatened to veto any bill easing the four-decade-old U.S. embargo on Cuba.
Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, and other supporters said they hoped to prevent the measure from being killed during House-Senate deliberations as it has been in the past.
“I fully expect the conferees to observe the will of Congress,” Baucus said, referring to negotiators from both chambers responsible for crafting final legislation.
The Senate voted 59-36 last week to lift the travel ban as part of an annual bill to fund the U.S. Transportation Department, the Treasury and other independent agencies.
The House voted 227-188 in September to approve an identical provision for the fourth year in a row in its version of the appropriations bill.
The Bush administration has worked with Republican congressional leaders in previous years to kill the provision during negotiations on a final spending bill.
But the fact that the Senate and House passed identical versions of the measure means it should be included in the final spending bill, if normal rules are observed. Baucus said he doubted Bush would veto the appropriations bill if the Cuba travel measure was included.
“I expect the administration is having second thoughts about that” because of the surprisingly large Senate vote in favor of removing the travel restriction, he said.
A Senate Democratic aide said supporters were confident they would be able to beat back any effort to kill the provision in the House-Senate conference.
The 91-3 Senate vote and the 381-39 House vote on the final Transportation Department and Treasury spending bill also indicates Congress could overturn a Bush veto, he said.