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- More from Cuba
Obama Signs Bill that Eases Cuba Policy
Posted: March 11, 2009
After a surprise debate and party infighting, the Senate passed an appropriations bill on Tuesday that will ease some of the United States' sanctions against Cuba. President Obama then signed it into law.
The policy changes, tucked inside a $410 billion omnibus spending bill, essentially lift the strict restrictions passed in 2004 by the Bush administration by defunding the agencies that would normally enforce the law.
The changes allow Cuban-Americans to visit relatives on the island once a year with no time limits (as opposed to once every three years), and also broadens the definition of family to include aunts, uncles and cousins.
The policy changes also make it easier for businessmen to sell agricultural and medical goods in Cuba by offering a general travel license that does not require individual permission.
The road to President Obama's desk has been a bumpy ride for the bill.
After passing a House vote on February 25 by a margin of 245-178, the government appropriations bill that would ensure 12 Cabinet departments could continue to function appeared primed to pass through the Senate.
However, a slew of controversial earmarks and policy changes had been attached to the bill, and many Senators took exception.
In particular, Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), both of Cuban descent, vowed to block the bill.
This left Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) no choice but to delay the final vote while he tried to wrangle additional support to reach the magic number of 60 votes, which would trump attempts to filibuster the bill.
To gain the support of the dissenting senators, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wrote a letter that assured the travel licenses would be limited to "only a narrow class of businesses."
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