Ronald Reagan “allowed Americans with backpacks to travel in Eastern Europe, and it did help bring down the Berlin Wall,” said conservative Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., chief sponsor of the language easing the travel restrictions.
“Personal freedom follows economic freedom,” said Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who conceded that lifting the food embargo would help his farm-state constituents.
Sales of medicine to Cuba have been allowed since 1992 with certain restrictions.
As a result of an easing of travel restrictions last year by the Clinton administration for students, athletes, artists and others, the government says about 82,000 Americans flew to Cuba last year. That was a 47 percent over the 55,900 who did so in 1998.
Under last month’s agreement between House GOP leaders and Nethercutt, Americans could sell food and drugs to Cuba, Libya, Iran, Sudan and North Korea. But Cubans would be required to pay for them with cash or with credit from a third country.
The prohibition against financing by the U.S. government or U.S. banks was seen by many critics, including some farm-state lawmakers, as meaning that little trade would actually occur as a result of the agreement.
That agreement would also write into law an existing ban on U.S. tourist travel to Cuba.
The Clinton administration decided a year ago to allow sales of food and medicine to Iran, Libya and Sudan but was barred by law from easing the embargo on Cuba.
The provisions the House debated Thursday were offered as amendments to a measure financing the Treasury Department and other smaller agencies in the coming fiscal year. The overall bill was approved by 216-202.
The Senate version of the bill has no language affecting trade with Cuba.