House panel delays action on Cuba bill

Lacking the votes necessary for passage, a House panel has postponed action on a bill that would lift travel restrictions to Cuba.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee had scheduled a Wednesday markup on Rep. Collin Peterson’s (D-Minn.) measure, which was approved by Peterson’s Agriculture panel earlier this year. But the markup on Tuesday was postponed.

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Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) has been trying to secure 24 votes on the 47-member panel to approve the bill, but an analysis by The Hill shows only 16 members have publicly committed to it.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recently indicated that if Berman’s panel approved the bill, it could be brought to the House floor either before or after the elections.

The bill’s future is now uncertain.

In a release on Tuesday, Berman stated, “The committee had been scheduled to consider this legislation [Wednesday], 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.”

Easing aspects of the embargo against Cuba has bipartisan support — and bipartisan opposition. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), a rising star in the Democratic Party, is strongly opposed to relaxing U.S. policy on the Castro regime.

Co-sponsors of the bill who sit on the Foreign Affairs Committee include Reps. Berman, Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), Ron Paul (R-Texas), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), John Tanner (D-Tenn.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Mike Ross (D-Ark.), David Scott (D-Ga.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).

Other panel members who plan on voting yes are Reps. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), Gene Green (D-Texas), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).

Committee members Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.) and Connie Mack (R-Fla.) are opposed to Peterson’s bill.

Other Republicans and Democrats on the committee declined to comment.

President Obama supports changing U.S. policy on Cuba. In 2009, the White House administratively changed rules to make it easier for Cuban-Americans to travel back to their homeland and send money to relatives.

Peterson’s bill, which cleared his panel 25-20, would lift travel restrictions to Cuba for U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and 23 other senators from both sides of the aisle on Tuesday called on Obama to remove obstacles to U.S. agricultural and medical exports to Cuba while also endorsing the lifting of the travel ban.