(Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America)
This is a guest post by Anya Landau French, who directs the New America Foundation/U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative. This post originally appeared at The Havana Note.
In the days following the House Agriculture Committee action on Cuba last week, many Cuba analysts are wondering how far, and how fast, this bill could move. Will the bill have to move through two more House committees before heading to the House floor, or will those committees waive their right to amend the bill, and send the bill straight to the floor for possible amendment and passage?
Following the House Agriculture Committee’s action, one of the bill’s most influential champions, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, left nothing to chance. Top lobbyist Bruce Josten sent personalized thank-you letters to every Member who voted yes, pointedly reminding each one that, “The Chamber believes that both the trade and travel aspects of this bill are important and encourages you to remain open to supporting the bill in its entirety for consideration and passage by the full House.” As the Chamber’s Senior Director of the Americas, Patrick Kilbride, wrote on the Hill’s blog last week:
“It is a rare step for the Chamber to send this signal on a piece of legislation that is still in committee, and the move conveys two things: one, the strength of the U.S. Chamber’s conviction regarding the transformative power of free enterprise and its promise for Cuba; and, two, the seriousness of purpose and sense of possibility that pervades this legislation at this moment — a seminal moment for the U.S. and Cuba.”
The Chamber’s follow up letter to House Agriculture Committee members show it’s seriously gearing up for floor consideration.
Consideration by the full House is exactly what Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a leading opponent of lifting the Cuba travel ban, is hoping to head off. Ros-Lehtinen exercises greater influence over Members in committee than she will in a House debate of 435 Members, and is therefore “insisting” that Chairman Berman bring the bill through Foreign Affairs first (the travel portion of the bill falls within his committee’s jurisdiction, and so he has the right to consider it before it goes to the floor). Berman reiterated his support for the bill following the Agriculture Committee’s vote last Wednesday: “It’s time to trust our own people and restore their right to travel.” But if he’s leaning toward bringing the bill before his Committee, or sending it to the floor, he hasn’t let on. (And we’re not really talking about Barney Frank’s claim on this bill, but then Ileana Ros-Lehtinen isn’t his Ranking Member on the Financial Services Committee.)
On Friday, Congress Daily reported that “farm, business and humanitarian groups are urging leadership to bring the bill to the House floor.” I tend to agree with them. While there is a certain poetry to Berman bringing the bill through a committee that had for years abdicated real, honest oversight and consideration of Cuba policy, I think those who oppose any change in the policy just want to run down the clock. And they hope to do that by insisting on moving the bill through as many committees as possible.
Besides, does anyone doubt that the amendment process in Foreign Affairs will be nothing short of a circus? It’s unfortunate, really, but it’s just impossible to have a civil debate on Cuba in the U.S. Congress. Defenders of the status quo understand that they’re on borrowed time after fifty years of failure. All too often, that urgency to sustain the unsustainable drives these Members to resort to distortion and demagoguery, intimidating and name-calling Members who might otherwise try to engage in a thoughtful and honest debate on the merits of restricting the travel of U.S. citizens to Cuba.
— Anya Landau French