September 23, 2010 / 9:39 PM / 9 years ago

House panel to move forward on easing Cuba policy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A House of Representatives panel will vote next week on a bill relaxing trade with and travel to Cuba, with Democratic supporters struggling to ease the restrictions before mid-term elections in which they risk losing their majority.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee placed the legislation on its calendar for a vote next Wednesday. But even if the committee approves it, getting the measure through Congress this year will be difficult with so little time and so much other work left for lawmakers to do.

If passed, the legislation would lift the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba and remove hurdles on food sales to the island.

A broad coalition of farm, business and human rights groups support the legislation as an important step toward ending the almost five-decade-old embargo on communist-led Cuba and promoting positive change there.

A Republican takeover of the House in November 2 elections, which many think is possible, would complicate chances for change next year because some senior Republicans oppose any loosening of the embargo.

But there are also some opponents of lifting the travel ban among the Democrats now in the majority in both the House and Senate, and this has helped to delay action on it until now.

The measure passed the House Agriculture Committee in June. If it passes the Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, it would go to the House floor, but probably not until an expected “lame duck” session after the November elections.

The bill would also have to pass the Senate. If it fails to clear any of these hurdles, lawmakers will have to start over from scratch in the new Congress.

President Barack Obama has said he wants to “recast” ties with Cuba, and last year renewed outreach efforts to the island. He eased limits on travel by separated family members and cash remittances by Cuban-Americans to their relatives.

U.S. advocates for better ties with Cuba hope he will go farther.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell; editing by Todd Eastham

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