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Government funding accord drops restrictions on Cuba travel

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While the win-loss tally from the final week of Congress isn’t complete, the White House can count one small victory in protecting its newly relaxed policies on travel to Cuba.

Republicans had tried to use a must-pass spending bill moving in the House on Friday to roll back the Obama administration rules, which eased restrictions on travel for educational exchanges, loosened rules on sending remittances and opened up new opportunities for airlines to fly to Cuba.

The new rules have helped balloon the number of people traveling to the communist country. The White House said the steps would help reunite families, open communication and increase humanitarian aid.

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But Cuban American lawmakers and others have labeled the policies naïve and misguided, serving only to prop up, rather than undermine, Fidel Castro’s regime.

In a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, said the rules had spawned a frivolous tourism program billed as cultural exchange.

“They’re an outrage. They’re grotesque,” Rubio said. “And they’re providing hard currency to a regime that oppresses its people, who jails people because they disagree with the government.”

Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart proposed an amendment to the spending bill that would have limited remittances to $300 per quarter and restricted American travel to once every three years for a maximum of 14 days.

But the White House and Democratic allies were able to defend the new rules. The language was dropped out of the appropriations bill in negotiations. The House is expected to pass the bill later Friday in an effort to dodge a government shutdown.

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