WASHINGTON — A bill that would end the Cuban travel embargo and ease restrictions on agricultural experts has enough votes to pass the House, but not enough to clear the committee it’s currently stuck in, Rep. Collin Peterson said Tuesday.
“If we can get this bill to the floor, we have the votes to pass,” he said.
Currently the legislation (co-sponsored by every other Minnesota House Democrat) is before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where it has yet to be scheduled for a mark up because there apparently aren’t the votes for it on that panel, Peterson said, imploring members of the National Farmers Union to help change that math. If it gets past that stage, Peterson said he’s confident that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who supports the measure) will schedule it for a floor vote in the lame duck session if the bill clears committee.
“We just need a couple of people and then we’re off to the races,” Peterson said.
Currently, Cuba takes in $51.9 million in Minnesota agricultural products, most of it soybeans, corn, wheat and related products. U.S. exports currently provide about 30 percent of Cuba’s imported agricultural products, but a 2007 U.S. International Trade Commission report estimated that easing trade restrictions could see that number grow to between 50 and 67 percent.
Mike Ratka, who owns a 50 head cow/calf operation in Foley, told lawmakers and farming activists that trade with Cuba wasn’t even on his radar because of travel restrictions that he says overly complicate trips to Cuba to hammer out deals.
“It’d be like today; If I couldn’t come to this meeting I couldn’t speak in front of you,” he said.
While most of Peterson’s plea focused on agriculture, he mentioned the more controversial travel segments of the bill saying that the best way to change Cuba’s communist government is to dock 11 U.S. cruise ships a week on the island and “expose that society to ordinary Americans.”
And that’s where the spirited opposition comes in.
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, for one, has vowed to filibuster Peterson’s bill if it ever gets to the Senate over concerns that it would embolden a Cuban regime he described as oppressive.
“Repression is repression and dictatorships are dictatorships, no matter where they are located or whether you want to use their resorts,” he said earlier this year.