WASHINGTON — A GOP-controlled Senate panel has voted to lift a decades-long ban on travel to Cuba, giving a boost to President Obama’s moves to ease travel restrictions and open up relations with the Castro-governed nation.
The Senate Appropriations Committee also voted to repeal a law prohibiting banks and other US businesses from financing sales of US agricultural exports to Cuba.
The Obama administration issued rules in January to significantly ease travel restrictions to Cuba and allow regularly scheduled flights for the first time.
The Senate Appropriations Committee 18-12 vote comes just days after the US and Cuba formally ended more than a half-century of estrangement by reestablishing diplomatic relations cut off during the Cold War.
‘‘We have the opportunity to increase the likelihood that Cuban people have greater liberties and freedom with the ability to connect with them,’’ said sponsor Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas. ‘‘I also would say that as Americans we have certain freedoms that we cherish, and Americans can travel around the globe today without exception — no country is totally prohibited with the exception of Cuba.’’
The House Appropriations Committee has moved in the opposite direction, but the intraparty disagreement among Republicans makes it far less likely that the GOP-controlled Congress will try to use spending bills to challenge Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba.
The Senate language goes beyond the administration rules, which lifted a requirement that US travelers obtain a license from the Treasury Department before traveling to Cuba.
Instead, all that is required is for travelers to assert that their trip would serve educational, religious, or other permitted purposes.
By Andrew Taylor, Associated Press
July 24, 2015