By Robert Silk / June 20, 2016
A powerful Senate committee has voted to put an end to the remaining restrictions on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba.
The measure, which was presented as an amendment to the Senate Appropriation Committee’s fiscal year 2017 financial services bill, passed on an uncontested June 17 voice vote.
The amendment, said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), one of its sponsors, would make it possible for Americans to travel to Cuba without the interference from their own government.
Leahy noted that under current U.S. law, Americans can travel anywhere else in the world, including North Korea, Iran and Syria. But to go to Cuba, Americans must travel for one of 12 approved reasons, including educational, religious and humanitarian purposes.
The bipartisan amendment was co-sponsored by senators Dick Durban (D-Ill.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas).
Despite its easy passage out of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a full repeal of the travel ban could face more challenges in the House, where opposition to the Obama Administration’s rapprochement with Cuba is stronger. Last summer the House voted 247-176 on a provision to a spending bill that was to roll back the steps the administration had already taken to ease travel restrictions to Cuba.
Since then, however, that easing has become more pronounced. Early this month, the DOT approved commercial air service to Cuban destinations outside Havana by six U.S. airlines. Flights are expected to begin in September. The DOT is still weighing applications for air service to Havana, with those approvals expected this summer.
In addition, Carnival Corp.'s new Fathom cruise line in May took the first legally approved cruise between the U.S. and Cuba since the onset of the embargo.
The Senate Appropriations Committee also approved other Cuba-related amendments last week. One, sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), would allow flights operated by non-U.S. carriers on their way to or from Cuba to refuel at U.S. airports.
“Allowing US airports to provide this service could provide additional jobs to airports throughout the country,” Collins said before the voice vote.
Another measure would put an end to the requirement that a vessel entering Cuba must wait six months before it can unload or load freight in the U.S.