WASHINGTON, Jan. 29, 2015 – A bipartisan group of senators is seeking to kick off a debate over U.S. Cuban policy by proposing to end all restrictions on American travel to the island.
Four Republicans and four Democrats introduced the bill (S. 299) Thursday to lift travel rules enacted in 1996 and 2000 and eliminate travel-related restrictions on banking transactions.
“We’ve staked our position that the president is right to change policy and one of the first things we can do is to give Americans the right to visit Cuba,” said one of the Democratic cosponsors, Richard Durbin of Illinois.
President Obama recently eased some restrictions on both travel and on trade-related financial transactions, but the administration is restricted by law in how far it can go. The president has called for ending the embargo on Cuba but faces strong opposition in Congress.
Durbin said the travel legislation was certain to get debated as an amendment on the Senate floor, given the GOP leadership’s new policy of allowing votes on a wide array of amendments, a change made evident during the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline bill. Under Democratic leadership, the number of Senate amendments was much more limited.
The measure’s lead sponsor, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said that allowing unlimited travel to Cuba would encourage the government to open up its economy. But he conceded “there’s no guarantee that it will cause democracy to come faster.”
The bill’s other cosponsors are Republicans Jerry Moran of Kansas, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and John Boozman of Arkansas as well as Democrats Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
Reps. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Mark Sanford, R-S.C., are expected to introduce a companion bill in the House next week.