Vote Rejects Efforts To Ease Cuba Trade Restrictions
By DAVID ROGERS
Wall Street Journal
July 30, 2007
Anti-Castro lawmakers in Congress are delighted by a House vote last week rejecting efforts to ease restrictions on financing for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba.
The 245-182 vote quashes speculation that the new Democratic Congress will change U.S.-Cuban policy substantially.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.), a favorite of her party leaders, helped deliver 66 Democratic votes against an amendment sponsored by the House's chief tax writer, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.).
"The message is very clear," said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R., Fla.). "There will be no possibility of a relaxation of sanctions until there is a democratic constitution in Cuba."
Most striking, the fight came on an issue touching on agriculture, always a weak point for proponents of the U.S. trade embargo, which was relaxed in the last years of the Clinton administration to allow U.S. exports of food and medicine.
The Bush administration has since imposed tough payment regulations that critics contend are overly burdensome, effectively requiring cash in advance of any shipment from American ports.
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R., Mo.) has waged a running battle in the annual Treasury Department appropriations bill to try to get Congress to override these rules and allow cash on delivery. As recently as June 28, pro-embargo forces made a strategic decision not to force a House vote on Ms. Emerson's language.
But Mr. Rangel went further. His amendment -- offered to the farm bill last week -- would have allowed direct payments to U.S. banks and permitted visas for Cuban officials traveling to the U.S. to inspect agriculture export facilities.
"It went too far. We could not let it go," said Ms. Wasserman Schultz.
The timing also left the chairman vulnerable. The farm bill happened to come to the floor after advocates of Cuban sanctions had mounted a lobbying campaign in Congress; the vote on the Rangel amendment was just a day after Raul Castro, Fidel's brother, had addressed his nation on Revolution Day; and Ms. Wasserman Schultz warned colleagues against adding a politically volatile issue to the farm bill.
Undaunted, Mr. Rangel described the amendment as a "real win for America and a win for American farmers."
But even pro-trade allies were skeptical. "His timing was horrendous," said John Kavulich, a senior policy adviser to the U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council."
It's the best we've ever done on any vote that has an ag aspect," said Mr. Diaz-Balart.
Ms. Wasserman Schultz, who worked with another Democrat, Rep. Albio Sires of New Jersey, said the 66 Democratic votes represent a solid core now that won't be easy to shake.
"The message is: there has not been a lessening of support for the sanctions against Cuba," Rep. Wasserman Schultz said. "Among Democrats there is a solid base for pushing for reform on the island."
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Reasons for the Failure of the Rangel Amendment
There’s no mystery about why the Rangel amendment failed. You can’t beat something with nothing. We have on our side no PAC, no organization on Capitol Hill to speak of, and no whip operation.
To begin with our lack of a PAC, since the beginning of the year, the US-Cuba Democracy PAC has given $322,500 to federal candidates, including at least two $1,000 contributions to every freshman Democrat. That means that all the new Democratic members have heard the pro-embargo arguments at least twice as they received their checks. In addition, two Democrats, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Cuban-American Albio Sires (D-NJ) are actively whipping Democrats – especially freshmen – to support the embargo. (The Diaz-Balart brothers have performed that function with incoming Republicans for several years).
In an unusual move, Speaker Pelosi installed Debbie Wasserman Schultz as a cardinal on the Appropriations Committee in only her second term. I.e. she Chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee that determines the funding level for the entire legislative branch. She also serves on the powerful Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee. In addition she holds a leadership position at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Her job at the DCCC as head of the Frontline program is to help “vulnerable” Democrats win reelection. So, when she asks a new Democratic member to vote with her, she does so with considerable institutional authority.
If Wasserman Shultz’s status were not enough of a problem, we have lost Majority Whip James Clyburn. (Majority Leader Hoyer was always a problem on Cuba issues, but was thought to be offset in the leadership by Clyburn). The loss of Clyburn moves the situation in the House from serious to close to desperate.
To return to the US-Cuba Democracy PAC, of the 66 Democrats who voted against the Rangel amendment on Friday, 51 (77%) had received one or more contributions from the PAC since the beginning of the 2007-2008 election cycle:
Brown (FL) $5,000
Davis (AL) $3,000
Jones (OH) $2,500
Ryan (OH) $2,000
Wasserman Schultz $10,000
Wilson (OH) $2,000
Of the remaining 15, 7 (47%) received one or more contributions from the US-Cuba Democracy PAC in the 2005-2006 election cycle:
Green (TX) $1,000
Miller (NC) $4,000
Altogether, 58 of the 66 Democrats who voted against the Rangel amendment on Friday (88%) received one or more contributions from the US-Cuba PAC in the last year and a half.
They didn't wait for the 110th Congress to convene either. The US-Cuba Democracy PAC gave out $62,000 after the 2006 general election - again mostly to newly-elected Democrats. That means the PAC gave a total of $384,500 to federal candidates since the 2006 general election.
The founding of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC and its targeting of campaign contributions coincides with the annual votes to defund enforcement of various provisions of the Cuban embargo. It is not to be critical – but only factual – to point out that those votes provided the basis for an annual appeal to wealthy Cuban Americans to provide funds to preserve the embargo in Congress. (As the list of PAC contributors reveals, they are almost exclusively Dade County-based Cuban Americans http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/pacgave.asp?strID=C00387720&Cycle=2006).
It is always more difficult to pry a member of Congress away from a position taken in a recorded vote than to prevent that vote in the first place. At this point we must as a matter of urgency prevent a generation of Democratic legislators from becoming permanent embargo supporters. I hope our next discussion will be about how that might be done.