Sen. Baucus Keeps Up Fight to Lift Cuba Travel Ban, Calls for Floor Action
Sens. Baucus, Craig, Dorgan, and Enzi Press for Senate Debate
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) U.S. Senator Max Baucus was today joined by three of his colleagues– Sens. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) - in pressingthe Senate leadership to allow Senate floor debate on their bill, "The Freedom to Travel to CubaAct," which would permanently repeal the Cuba travel ban.
In a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn. ) and Minority Leader TomDaschle (D-S.D.), Baucus noted that "The Freedom to Travel Act," which has 33 co-sponsors,was already approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last November by a 13-5 vote.
"There is demonstrated bipartisan, bicameral interest in the Cuba travel legislation andwe feel strongly that allowing floor consideration of the free-standing bill is the right thing todo," the Senators stated in the letter.
Last year, both the Senate and House voted overwhelmingly to eliminate funding thatgoes toward the enforcement of the Cuba travel ban. The provision was included in the fiscalyear 2004 Treasury-Transportation Appropriations bill, but was removed by congressionalleadership despite the will of Congress.
Today's letter to Senate leadership is just one in a series of steps Baucus has recentlytaken to open doors between the U.S. and Cuba and lift the embargo. In January, Baucus sent aletter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, urging him to approve a visa for a Cuba veterinarianwho is needed in Montana to conduct routine inspections of live cattle intended for sale to Cuba.Baucus also spoke on the Senate floor last week to continue raising these issues (fullfloor statement follows release).
In addition, Baucus met yesterday – along with Sens. Dorgan, Enzi, and Craig – withAssistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Roger Noriega to discuss theadministration’s failure to process legitimate visas for Cuban agriculture buyers and travellicenses for U.S. farmers who wish to visit Cuba for the purpose of exploring possible sales.Following yesterday's meeting, Baucus sent another letter to Secretary Powell asking theState Department to provide specific instructions on how to apply for visas that are needed tofacilitate agriculture sales, while also demanding greater public transparency in theadministration’s policy regarding such travel.
"Opening Cuba to trade and travel has always been an important goal of mine, but aftertraveling to Cuba last year and seeing first hand the benefits we could achieve for both the Cubanand American people, it has become front and center on my agenda," Baucus added. "We deserve to have the issue fully debated on the Senate floor and I urge the leadership to heed ourcall."
Full text of letter and Sen. Baucus's Jan. 5 floor statement follows:
February 11, 2004The Honorable Bill FristThe Honorable Tom DaschleDear Senators Frist and Daschle,
The time has come for full Senate debate on the Cuba travel ban. We would appreciate youragreement to schedule floor consideration of S.950, which would permanently repeal the travelban.
Last year, Congress made great progress on this issue. In September, for the fourth year in arow, a clear majority in the House voted on an amendment that would loosen Cuba travelrestrictions. The Senate followed suit in October by a strong, bipartisan majority vote onidentical language. We were very disappointed that the language passed by both chambers wasremoved from the final Omnibus Appropriations bill in December, but we are resolute in ourdetermination to redress travel restrictions on Cuba this year.
Only a few weeks after the Cuba amendment passed both chambers, Senator Lugar held ahearing and a markup of S.950, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, which would end allrestrictions on travel to Cuba. S.950 was voted out of the Foreign Relations Committeeoverwhelmingly – 13 to 5 -- and has since amassed 33 cosponsors in the Senate. There isdemonstrated bipartisan, bicameral interest in the Cuba travel legislation and we feel stronglythat allowing floor consideration of the free-standing bill is the right thing to do.
We appreciate your consideration of this important issue.
Senator Max Baucus
Senator Larry Craig
Senator Byron Dorgan
Senator Mike Enzi
Senate Floor Statement of U.S. Senator Max Baucus
February 5, 2004
"Mr. President, I want to spend some time today talking about the issue of Cuba. Thiswas an issue that the Senate spent a lot of time on last year, and I am here today to tell mycolleagues that we are just as committed this year.
Last year, as most people know, we made tremendous progress toward eliminating theCuba travel ban and easing the four-decade-old embargo. As a part of the appropriations processlast year, both the Senate and the House passed amendments - overwhelmingly, I might add -that would temporarily suspend enforcement the Cuba travel ban. I was outraged that this issuewas taken out of the final omnibus bill. It should not have been. In stripping that provision,leadership broke the rules of conference - and defied the will of the majority of both Houses.That is simply undemocratic.
While disappointed, I want to empha today that the majority of us who favor endingthis embargo will work hard this year to pass this legislation - one way or another. Senators Enzi,Dorgan, and I have introduced legislation that would permanently end the travel ban. Last year,that legislation passed out of the Foreign Relations Committee by a 13 to 5 vote. That bill has 33co-sponsors and is now ready for floor consideration. I respectfully ask the Majority andMinority Leaders that they make floor time available to consider this legislation.
Mr. President, the fight to end the Cuba travel ban is not over. It has only begun. It isironic that we finally face this moment at the same time that we are scrutinizing both the War onTerrorism and the stretched federal budget - because enforcing the Cuba travel ban means theuse of scarce federal resources. I think it's important for Senators to understand that the Cubatravel ban is enforced by the same federal agency - the Office of Foreign Assets Control, orOFAC - that also is charged with rooting out the sources of international terrorist financing andstopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Somewhere overseas, a massiveinternational financial network routes millions of dollars to Osama bin Laden and other terrorists.
Their access to dollars is their lifeline - their sole means of attacking our citizens and oursoldiers. Rooting out this network and shutting it down is one of our nation's top priorities.Yet, the very agency that is charged with this crucial task must divert valuable resourcesto enforce an absurd travel ban that a clear majority of Congress has already voted to terminate.By its own estimate, OFAC diverts one-sixth of its employee resources to enforcing the Cubatravel ban. One-sixth. How can we justify diverting one dollar of this limited budget? Let aloneone sixth of resources.
Just as disturbing, late last year the Department of Homeland Security anno unced that it,too, would divert some of its resources to monitoring U.S. citizens who might have traveled toCuba. In a post-9/11 world, I just don't understand the Administration's priorities here. Mr.President, I hope that this year we can finally change this policy, and I hope the Senate will havea chance to fully debate this issue. Thank you."
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