Cuban-born Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., is working behind the scenes in a bipartisan way to kill the massive spending measure now wending its way through the Senate because of provisions that loosen decades of restrictions against his native land.
The senator took to the floor in a blistering speech ticking off a host of examples of human rights abuses committed by the dictatorship, formerly led by Fidel Castro and now by his brother, Raul, including the flaunting of international law and the cozying up to other authoritarian regimes throughout the world that sponsor terror, like those in Iran and Venezuela.
The omnibus spending bill, which funds most government agencies through September 30, eases restrictions on travel and extends credit for increased trade to the island nation, all moves that Martinez says will not benefit the Cuban people as the measure exacts no positive actions in return.
"As we consider changing U.S. policy toward Cuba, why are we doing this without asking anything?" Martinez implored his colleagues, suggesting that the U.S. should, for example, demand the release of political prisoners.
The bill does not lift the decades-old embargo against Cuba, but it would allow the nation to buy U.S. goods on credit from groups like U.S. farmers, who have long clamored for the opening of this marketplace. But, Martinez sees this as a recipe for disaster in these hard economic times, noting that Cuba "owes $29 billion to the Paris Club (an informal, international financing group) ... in fact, Cuba has the second worst credit than any nation in the world."
Cuban American Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has also decried the change in policy. He has even placed a hold on two of President Obama's nominees to government posts, attempting to use this as leverage to get the Cuba policy changes stripped from the bill, this according to a senior Democratic leadership aide. The Washington Post first reported this move.
Menendez, on Monday, said the Cuba changes are "so deeply offensive to me, and so deeply undemocratic, that it puts the omnibus appropriations package in jeopardy, in spite of all the other tremendously important funding that this bill would provide.''
Indeed, even the Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid voiced faint support for the provisions, but he said, "There are a couple of those that I don't like very much, but it's not enough to bring the bill down, in my opinion."
But, bringing down the bill is exactly what Martinez now has in mind. "A better strategy might be to kill the bill," the senator said, as opposed to offering amendments to rid the bill of the offending items, a move that Martinez acknowledges would surely fail.
Martinez says he is working with Menendez and his fellow Floridian, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to amass the necessary votes to deprive supporters of the spending bill of the necessary 60 votes for final passage, unless changes are made. It is unclear if they could round up enough votes, but most Republicans are not likely to support the bill because of funding levels, so Martinez's effort does stand a chance.
Obama has said he favors provisions like those in the bill, one that has passed the House of Representatives, already, and awaits House-Senate negotiations.
Congress faces a tight Friday deadline by which the $410 billion omnibus spending bill must pass to fund the majority of government agencies now running on a temporary, stopgap spending measure. If it does not pass, the government would either have to shut down or another temporary measure would have to be hastily crafted.