Lobby wars

Two of the capital’s most powerful lobbies are about to square off, and while not quite reality TV, it’s what passes for excitement in Washington.

The Bush administration, always very attentive to the anti-Castro Cuban-American lobby, is about to tighten up on sales of agricultural and medical goods to Cuba, one of the few exemptions in the long-standing U.S. economic embargo on Havana.

That has outraged the farm lobby, already not too happy with the administration over President Bush’s proposed cuts in farm subsidies.

Congress created the exemption for food and medicine in 2000 and, since then, U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba have totaled more than $762 million and Cuba has become the United States’ 25th-largest farm export market.

Now the Treasury Department proposes to crimp that trade by requiring Cuba to pay cash in advance.

Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, is threatening to block Bush’s Treasury nominees until the department backs off. And a couple of influential farm-state Republicans – Pat Roberts of Kansas and Larry Craig of Idaho – say they will introduce legislation to stop Treasury from hindering agricultural sales to Cuba.

The farm lobby has the clout in Congress; the Cuban-American lobby, clout with the Bush administration. The trade embargo on Cuba is a four-decade-old failure, but domestic politics have conspired to keep it in place. However, since Bush took office, Congress has come closer and closer to lifting large parts of that embargo, but the president has succeeded in not only preserving the embargo but tightening it, particularly with regard to travel to Cuba.

The ban on visits to Cuba is a gross infringement of Americans’ right to travel where they wish. Maybe aggrieved wheat, meat and soybean producers can win that right back.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)