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Bill would loosen travel restrictions for Cuban relatives

WASHINGTON — As part of a huge bill wrapping up last year's budget, Democrats controlling Congress are loosening restrictions on allowing people of Cuban descent to visit relatives on the island.

The bill would block enforcement of restrictions imposed by President George W. Bush in 2004 on family travel to Cuba.

The Bush rules limit family visits to once every three years for no more than 14 days.

Travel spending is capped at $50 per day.

Once signed by Obama, the legislation would allow Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba once a year to visit relatives, spend up to $170 a day and visit for an unlimited duration.

The legislation would also expand the definition of family, allowing many more people to travel to the island under the looser rules that apply to Cuban-Americans and legal immigrants.

The bill would also remove impediments imposed by Bush in 2005 that made it more difficult to finance sales of food and medicine to Cuba.

The move is probably a precursor to efforts later this year to ease a long-standing embargo and broader travel restrictions to Cuba.

The $410 billion spending bill was unveiled by House Democrats on Monday to keep the government running through the end of the fiscal year, setting up the second political struggle over federal funds in less than a month with Republicans.

The measure includes thousands of earmarks, the pet projects favored by lawmakers and often criticized by the public and watchdogs.

There was no official total of the bill's earmarks, but they accounted for at least $3.8 billion.

Democrats defended the spending increases, saying they were needed to make up for cuts enacted in recent years or proposed a year ago by Bush in health, education, energy and other programs.

Republicans countered that the spending in the bill far outpaced inflation and amounted to much higher increases when combined with spending in the stimulus legislation that President Obama signed last week.

Fast Facts

Travel changes

Now: Family visits

are limited to once

every three years, for

no more than 14 days. Travel spending is capped at $50 per

day.

The changes: Once signed by President Obama, the legislation would allow Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba once a year to visit relatives, spend up to $170 a day and visit for an unlimited time. It would also expand the definition of family to include first cousins, aunts and uncles rather than parents, siblings and grandparents, allowing many more people to travel to the island.

Time line: The bill is slated to pass the House this week and the Senate soon thereafter.

Bill would loosen travel restrictions for Cuban relatives 02/23/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 23, 2009 10:20pm]
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