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Cuba restrictions slow agreement on government funding bill

 

Restrictions on family travel and remittances to Cuba have emerged as one of the final sticking points in reaching a deal on end-of-year government funding legislation stalled before Congress.

Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) and Democratic aides cited a provision inserted into the so-called "megabus" as a sticking point in reaching a deal on the bill, which would fund the government through the end of its fiscal year next September.

"I know that this is a lot of, maybe it sounds like theater, but it is the result of people simply making an anti-Castro statement without thinking of the consequences," Serrano said.

The policy rider, introduced by Florida GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, was included as an amendment to the Financial Services Appropriations bill, and would revert travel restrictions and rules regarding remittances to Cuba back to where they were before the Obama administration took action on the issue.

"What you have is a situation where, in a desire to get bills through, and I under that there are nine bills that need to be approved, this one last sticking point is still hanging around, without people fully understand the ramifications of what it means to people," Serrano said.

President Obama changed restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba in 2009. Since then, Serrano said, that over 300,000 people have scheduled travel to Cuba, something that could be jeopardized if this provision is passed.

"For the first time this past summer, people did something that is very common with Dominicans, and Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans, they sent their children to spend time with Grandma in Cuba and learn Spanish and so on," Serrano said. "The irony of this is 52 years later Castro is still an issue in Congress."

The Republican Chairman to the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Hal Rogers (KY), admitted to journalists that there were "still some things yet to be completed," but said he was "optimistic" that they would strike a deal.

Congress has until midnight Friday to pass a piece of legislation that extends government funding for the 2012 fiscal year.  If they fail to do so, the government will shut down.