U.S. House Committee Proposes To Impose Major Impediments to U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee is in the process of considering a proposed appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of State that would impose monetary restrictions on the U.S. government’s implementation of the Obama Administration’s rapprochement with Cuba.[1]

This intent was mentioned in a June 2nd press release by the House Appropriations Committee regarding its draft FY 2016 appropriations bill for State and Foreign Operations for consideration tomorrow by its State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee.

In addition to funding the State Department and foreign assistance, said the press release, the bill includes a prohibition on using funds for an U.S. embassy or other diplomatic facility in Cuba beyond what was in existence prior to the December 17, 2014, announcement of rapprochement by President Obama. The bill also would restrict funds to facilitate the opening of a Cuban embassy in the U.S., increase democracy assistance and international broadcasting to Cuba and provide direction to the Secretary of State on denying visas to members of the Cuban military and Communist party.

The bill would maintain a requirement that the State Department must notify Congress if it commits to providing assistance to foreign governments that accept Guantanamo Bay detainees and add a requirement for regular reporting to Congress of any negotiations for future detainee transfers.

Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House Majority Leader, said at a news conference, “I think we have been very clear with our challenges with what’s gone on in Cuba, from human rights, from what’s happened there, and we have a difference of opinion with the administration and we have a right to express it.”

Now we wait to see whether this Subcommittee and then the full Committee and the House as a whole pass the bill with these restrictions. The fact that the Republican Majority Leader in the House supports these restrictions does not bode well for defeating these restrictions in the House. Then it will be up to the Senate to delete these restrictions and prevail in conference with the House on such a difference.

U.S. citizens who support normalization and reconciliation with Cuba should press their Senators and Representatives to oppose these provisions of the appropriations bill.

Of course, President Obama could veto any bill with such restrictions after passage by both chambers of Congress. But then the State Department would be left without any appropriated funds to carry out its many functions.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: House App. Comm., Draft Bill Making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes (June 2, 2015); House App. Comm, Press Release: Appropriations Committee Releases Fiscal Year 2016 State and Foreign Operations bill, (June 2, 2015); Reuters, U.S. House Panel Seeks to Ban Funding for U.S. Embassy in Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 2, 2015),

 

Pending Congressional Authorization and Appropriation Bills Relating to Cuba

Prior posts reviewed pending congressional legislation supporting and opposing U.S.-Cuba reconciliation.

References to Cuba are also found in three pending appropriation bills that appropriate or set aside money to specific federal departments, agencies and programs; such bills, under the Constitution, must originate in the House of Representatives. Other references to Cuba exist in two pending authorization bills that authorize activities of federal departments, agencies and programs; such bills, under the Constitution, may originate in either chamber of the Congress. Details of these bills may be found on the Library of Congress’ THOMAS website. All of these bills will be discussed in this post.

 Appropriation Bills

 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2015 (H.R.240). This bill was introduced in the House on January 9, 2015, was passed by the House on January 14th and by the Senate with an amendment on February 27, and on March 3 the House concurred in the Senate’s amendment. On March 4 it was signed into law (Pub. L. No. 114-4) by the President.[1]

Section 533 of Pub. L. No. 114-4 states, “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available in this or any other Act may be used to transfer, release, or assist in the transfer or release to or within the United States, its territories, or possessions Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or any other detainee who—(1) is not a United States citizen or a member of the Armed Forces of the United States; and (2) is or was held on or after June 24, 2009, at the United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by the Department of Defense.” (Emphasis added.)

Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016 (H.R.2029). This bill was introduced in the House on April 24 and passed by the House on April 30. On May 21, the bill was reported favorably by the Senate Appropriations Committee with an amendment in the nature of a substitute, and it was placed on the Senate’s Legislative Calendar.

Section 512 of the House’s version of this bill and section 410 of the Senate’s version of this bill provides that none of the funds “may be used to construct, renovate, or expand any facility in the United States, its territories, or possessions to house any individual [who is not a U.S. citizen or member of the U.S. armed forces] detained at United States Naval Station, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for the purposes of detention or imprisonment in the custody or under the control of the Department of Defense.” However, this restriction does not apply to any modification of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station.

Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act, 2016 (H.R.—) On May 13th the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved the Final Committee Draft of this Act under the title, “A BILL –Making appropriations for the Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes.” The vote to approve was adopted on a straight party-line vote, 30 Republicans to 21 Democrats.[2]

This draft bill contains two restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba. One of the proposed restrictions is found in Section 193 (pp. 69-70), which states as follows:

  • “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to facilitate new scheduled air transportation originating from the United States if such flights would land on, or pass through, property confiscated by the Cuban Government, including property in which a minority interest was confiscated, as the terms confiscated, Cuban Government, and property are defined in paragraphs (4), (5), and (12)(A), respectively, of section 4 of 5 the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 (22 U.S.C. 6023 (4), (5), and 7 (12)(A)): Provided, That for this section, new scheduled air transportation shall include any flights not already regularly scheduled prior to March 31, 2015.”

The other proposed restriction is in Section 414 of the draft bill (p. 154), which states as follows:

  • “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Federal Maritime Commission or the Administrator of the Maritime Administration to issue a license or certificate for a commercial vessel that docked or anchored within the previous 180 days within 7 miles of a port on property that was confiscated, in whole or in part, by the Cuban Government, as the terms confiscated, Cuban Government, and property are defined in paragraphs (4), (5), and (12)(A), respectively, of section 4 of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 (22 U.S.C. 6023).”

 Authorization Bills

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (H.R.1735). This bill was introduced in the House on April 13 and was passed by the House on May 15. It has the following nine sections relating to Guantanamo Bay Naval Station:

  • Section 1034 requires reports to Congress about contacts between terrorists and former Guantanamo detainees.
  • Section 1035 requires reports to Congress to include information about recidivism of former Guantanamo detainees.
  • Section 1036 bans the release of certain Guantanamo detainees into the U.S.
  • Section 1037 bans use of funds to construct or modify facilities in U.S. for certain Guantanamo detainees.
  • Section 1038 bans the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to a combat zone.
  • Sections 1039-1041 require certain certifications and documents to be submitted to Congress for transfer of Guantanamo detainees to foreign countries.
  • Section 1042 bans the use of funds to transfer Guantanamo detainees to Yemen.

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (S.1376). On May 19 it was introduced and reported favorably to the Senate and placed on its Legislative Calendar. It contains provisions (Sections 1031-1038) regarding Guantanamo Bay detainees that are similar to those in the House version of the bill.

Conclusion

For two reasons, the most troublesome of these bills for U.S.-Cuba reconciliation is the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act, 2016. First, it would impose restrictions on travel by air or sea from the U.S. to Cuba. Second, although President Obama has the power to veto this bill as he has for all other bills, including those discussed in the prior post about measures opposing reconciliation, vetoing an appropriations bill means that certain parts of the federal government would not be funded for the period covered by the bill with a lot of adverse collateral consequences beyond the Cuba issues.

The other bills mentioned in this post have provisions directly interfering with President Obama’s long-held desire to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities and program and indirectly affecting U.S. negotiations over Guantanamo with Cuba.[3]

Supporters of reconciliation should urge their representatives in the Senate and House to oppose the Cuba anti-travel provisions in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act, 2016. Contact information for the members of the House and Senate is available online.

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[1] H.R.240 apparently superseded H.R.861 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2015 and S.272 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2015.

[2] This House Appropriations Committee action was discussed in a prior post.

[3] Most of these provisions about Guantanamo exist in free-standing bills discussed in the post about bills opposing reconciliation.