Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart has attached an amendment to a year-end catch-all spending bill that will have the effect of repealing President Obama’s policy that removed restrictions on Cuban Americans’ visits to their family in Cuba and on the cash assistance they send. The Bush rules would again be in effect: one visit every three years, a narrower definition of “family” that one may visit or assist, and $1,200 per year in remittances per recipient household.
The reason, he explains, is to cut off an excessive flow of money to the Cuban government. The holiday message he is really delivering to those Cuban Americans who travel to Cuba is roughly as follows: “If you oppose this, I don’t care, nor do I care that this would cut off family visits just before Christmas. You live in my district but you don’t seek citizenship and you don’t register to vote, and I bet you never will. Cuban Americans are exiles, not immigrants, and it’s time you started acting that way.”
An earlier note on Mario’s gambit is here.
Say what you will about his legislation, he is engaging in some remarkable politics, defying and calling the bluff of a large number of constituents. If it becomes law, it would put the onus on those Cuban Americans who do not vote to decide what kind of representation they want in Washington, and whether they are interested in being part of that decision. So far, regardless of changes in the Cuban American community, those who organize and vote based on Cuba issues are the hard-liners. That is why the entire Cuban American contingent in Congress is part of the maximum sanctions school, even as Cuban Americans fill dozens of flights every week.
But the Diaz-Balart language is not yet law. If Congress does not strip it on its own, the outcome would seem to depend on President Obama and the strength with which he would threaten a veto. The leverage there is not persuasion, heaven forbid, and it’s not necessarily a government shutdown if the spending bill is not enacted. Rather, it’s the threat that a fight over a bunch of small provisions in a huge bill could delay the Congressional Christmas break, or even keep Congress in Washington into Christmas itself. That’s real leverage and let’s hope he uses it.