Lucas Praises Rooney's Attempts to Improve Cuba Travel Bill

Jul 1, 2010

Tamara Hinton (202) 225-0184

WASHINGTON – Today, Ranking Member Frank Lucas praised Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida for his efforts during the full Agriculture Committee's markup of H.R. 4645, The Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act. Rep. Rooney offered two amendments to the bill, one of which was a bipartisan amendment that was cosponsored by Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA). The amendments addressed provisions in the bill, which have been the subject of great concern and debate by Members of the Committee. The Democratic leadership refused to consider any amendments offered during the markup.

Reps. Lucas and Rooney voted against the bill in Committee because section 2 of the legislation lifts the travel ban on Cuba, which would allow vast new sums of money and investment to flow into Cuba without providing any humanitarian relief for the Cuban people.
"Rep. Rooney showed bold leadership and sound judgment with his remarks and amendments during the markup and I am pleased to have him as a new Member of the Committee.  I applaud his efforts in trying to address serious concerns that Members throughout the Committee share regarding supporting a bill that would repeal the embargo the U.S. has had in place to prevent the enrichment of Castro’s regime. 
"Rep. Rooney’s amendments attempted to refocus the efforts of the Agriculture Committee on making exports to Cuba efficient and competitive without a wholesale change to U.S. foreign policy.  Removing travel restrictions for tourism has nothing to do with removing technical barriers to exports.  The Cuban people are desperate for access to affordable food, not tourists.  The bill the Committee passed will not change the situation for the Cuban people by any measurable degree.
"I am completely disappointed that Rep. Rooney’s first markup on the Committee was a demonstration of a flawed legislative process.  The Democrat leadership used procedural motions to block consideration of all amendments to improve the bill and thus damaged the bipartisan fashion in which this Committee has historically operated," said Ranking Member Frank Lucas.
The U.S. has maintained an economic embargo on Cuba since the rise of the Castro regime in the early 1960’s. In 2000 Congress relaxed trade restrictions with Cuba to provide for licensed exports of agricultural and medical products. The revised rules maintained a prohibition on direct U.S.-Cuban bank transactions and credit financing from U.S. institutions.
In 2005 the Bush administration tightened the interpretation of “cash in advance” that was a part of the legislation enacted in 2000 to allow agricultural exports. While a temporary provision included in the FY10 appropriations bill redefines “cash in advance” to reflect the original interpretation of the statute, the Obama administration has neglected to implement a permanent change which reflects the intent of Congress.
On September 3, 2009, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued amendments to the Cuba embargo regulations implementing President Obama's policy changes to lift restrictions on family travel and remittances to Cuba and authorize greater telecommunications links with Cuba. Neither the Obama administration nor Congress sought to remove all travel restrictions to Cuba.