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White House loses key House votes on Cuba

Bush expected to veto effort to lift travel ban

Rep. Tom DeLay:
Rep. Tom DeLay: "We should never stop working to bring freedom to Cuba."  

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration and Republican leaders in the House lost a key vote on Cuba policy Tuesday when the House voted to defeat a measure that linked the lifting of the Cuba travel ban to evidence the communist nation is not developing biological weapons. It was easily beaten.

The defeat cleared the way for the 262-167 passage of a second spending-bill amendment to lift the travel ban without restrictions. The White House has said it will veto that bill.

The defeated measure, which was offered as an amendment to an $18.5 billion spending bill for the Treasury Department and other agencies, was introduced by Porter Goss of Florida, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. It was designed to peel off votes from the second amendment, offered by Rep. Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, by appealing to members on national security grounds.

The same Flake amendment surprised the White House last year when it easily passed with 280 votes.

DeLay: Warns against aiding Castro

Efforts to lift the 40-year-old economic restrictions on Cuba have gained momentum on Capitol Hill in recent years because of mounting opinion that the sanctions have failed to foster change in the nation ruled by President Fidel Castro.

"For over 40 years, Americans have been prevented from traveling to Cuba, and for over 40 years, Castro hasn't moved an inch closer to democracy," Flake said in a statement. "If we are serious about undermining Castro and bringing democracy to that island, why not let Americans travel there with that message?"

But many Republicans said Castro is a threat to the United States and pointed to a recent testimony from Undersecretary of State Josh Bolten that "the United States believes that Cuba has at least a limited, developmental biological warfare research and development effort."

"We should never stop working to bring freedom to Cuba," Rep. Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, said during debate. But until it is certain that Cuba poses no threat, DeLay said, "Congress should take no step that inadvertently strengthens the Castro regime and compromises our campaign against terror."

The House agreed to two other embargo-related amendments Tuesday as well.

One measure, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican, would allow private financing of food and medicine sales to Cuba. Current law allows Cuba to buy food and medicine but it must acquire financing through international sources.

The second, offered by Flake, increases the dollar limit -- currently $1,200 -- people in the United States can send annually to people in Cuba.

But a third amendment, to lift the embargo on Cuba entirely, proposed by Rep. Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York, was defeated in a 226-204 vote.




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