Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Rip in Dem Majority Big Tent

I missed it when this happened last summer on the House floor. Val Prieta of Babalu blog recently brought it to my attention. I did a little digging over at the THOMAS web site, and found this conversation on the floor concerning an amendment offered by House Ways and Means Chairman, Charlie Rangel.
Mr. Chairman, I want to congratulate Chairman Peterson for an excellent farm bill which I support and look forward to supporting, assuming this amendment is not added to it.

I do have the utmost respect for the gentleman from New York and have enjoyed my time serving with him in the House of Representatives, but I rise in opposition to his amendment which provides the Cuban regime with the ability to open bank accounts in the United States and obtain visas for regime officials to visit U.S. production facilities.

I strongly support the farm bill, but this amendment needlessly adds a volatile political issue to this important bill.

Cuba is one of five countries in the world that is a state sponsor of terror, along with North Korea, Iran, Syria and Sudan. This amendment would allow access to our financial institutions by a regime that is and maintains close relationships with other state sponsors of terrorism.

Recently, we have been especially vigilant about not allowing access to our financial institutions since 9/11. We adopted the Bank Secrecy Act. We have made sure there are countless accountability measures to ensure that financial institutions have the ability to protect themselves from people who would do us harm, and this amendment would go in the opposite direction.

Additionally, regular Cuban citizens are prohibited from engaging in private economic activity; thus, general agricultural licenses will only serve the purpose of allowing agents of the Cuban Government into the United States.

Finally, I want to remind Members that while the Castro regime seeks U.S. concessions to finance its existence, it has consistently rejected offers of direct U.S. humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people.

I ask my colleagues to vote against this amendment. The Cuban people stand at the cusp of actualizing their dreams of freedom. It is our duty to stand by them during this historic time.

Now unless you clicked on the link you probably think this was spoken by a GOP member of Congress who is Cuban-American and very much anti-Castro. You would be mistaken. This dissent to Charlie Rangel came from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and she lobbied to get 65 other Dems to join with her and 179 Republicans to defeat this amendment. She did not just get some back benchers to join her, but she got several of the leadership to side with her against Rangel. She got Steny Hoyer, James Clyburn, Louise Slaughter, Ike Skelton, Bennie thompson, and Silvestre Reyes to vote against the Chairman of the House Ways and Means.

Sure I wish these Dems were not so lock step with Nancy and her pals over supporting the US armed services and their mission in Iraq, but at least some of them have enough sense to keep an enemy at bay 90 miles from our shore.

WSJ reporter David Rogers wrote a nice report on this incident
Anti-Castro lawmakers are delighted by a House vote last week rejecting efforts to ease restrictions on financing for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba.

The 245-182 vote quashes speculation that the new Democratic Congress will change U.S.-Cuban policy substantially. The message is very clear, said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R., Fla.). There will be no possibility of a relaxation of sanctions until there is a democratic constitution in Cuba.

...the vote on the Rangel amendment came the day after Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, addressed his nation on Revolution Day. Also, Wasserman Schultz warned colleagues against adding a politically volatile issue to the farm bill.

It went too far. We could not let it go, said Ms. Wasserman Schultz. The message, she said, is there has not been a lessening of support for the sanctions against Cuba. Among Democrats there is a solid base for pushing for reform on the island.

Perhaps there is still a faint glimmer of hope for this 231 year old republic after all.

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