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Proponents say yes, they have their best chance in years of repealing the ban on U.S. tourist travel to the island.

A battle over Cuba policy is escalating in Congress. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing Thursday to galvanize support for scrapping the ban as opponents rally to block any changes. Proponents have lined up a powerful and  iverse roster of supporters, including U.S. farmers, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Cuban American veterans of the Bay of Pigs and the Iraq war. The travel site Orbitz has collected over 100,000 signatures on a petition to eliminate the ban.

The congressional maneuvering comes as the Obama administration makes small-scale efforts to engage the Cuban government.

President Obama in April removed limits on Americans' visits to relatives on the island and allowed U.S. telecommunications companies to operate more freely there. But Obama has insisted that Cuban democratic reforms precede normalized relations.

Travel to Cuba by Americans was effectively banned in 1963. In 1977, the Carter administration eliminated most travel restrictions, but many were reimposed by subsequent administrations. A growing number of lawmakers have argued in recent
years that the sanctions have not been successful. But President George W. Bush threatened to veto bills softening the sanctions and tightened travel regulations.

In recent months, a bill ending the travel ban sponsored by Reps. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has picked up 178 co-sponsors -- approaching the 218 votes needed for passage. With Democrats controlling the White House and holding a significant majority in Congress, proponents say they think their moment has come.

But supporters of the ban have fought back and say they think they can block the bill. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) this month signed by 53 Democrats opposing any loosening of sanctions.

"There's a better chance of passage than ever before," said Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Source: The Washington Post 

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