WASHINGTON - House Republicans unveiled legislation Tuesday to sharply curb the Obama administration's recent moves to ease restrictions on travel to Cuba.
The provision by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Cuban American from Florida, would block new flights and cruise-ship travel to Cuba. It was attached to a must-pass transportation spending bill the House will consider next month.
Diaz-Balart's move comes in response to new rules issued by the administration in January that would significantly ease travel restrictions to Cuba and permit regularly scheduled flights for the first time, the result of a rapprochement after a half century of Cold War animosity.
Diaz-Balart said the Obama administration was skirting U.S. law.
"The expansion of regularly scheduled flights to Cuba is an obvious attempt to circumvent the tourism ban," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "Similarly, allowing cruises to dock in Cuba would violate both the spirit and the letter of U.S. law. Increased travel to Cuba directly funds the individuals and institutions that oppress the Cuban people."
The GOP plan would thwart the new flights, but leave in place new rules permitting the import of limited amounts of goods like cigars and rum.
The provision is sure to spark controversy and a veto threat from the White House. It also faces votes in the Appropriations Committee and in the House, where there is significant sentiment, even among some GOP conservatives, to ease the five-decade-plus Cuba trade embargo and travel restrictions to the island.
Obama took steps earlier this month to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, another step toward normalizing relations.
"Congress cannot look away," Diaz-Balart said, "as the president implements policies that channel dollars to an anti-American dictatorship."