A group of bipartisan senators wants to go further than the president in normalizing relations with Cuba by ending all restrictions on travel to the country.
The senators introduced a bill Thursday, the first to come since President Barack Obama announced a list of steps to change the Cold War-era policies towards Cuba, including the first step of opening embassies in both countries.
The president's steps did not change restrictions on who could travel to Cuba, but loosen restrictions on those allowed to travel. The senators bill also would end restrictions on banking transactions related to travel, according to Reuters.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., one of the bill sponsors, acknowledged some critics will want the U.S. to get a concession from the Cuban government in return for lifting this restriction. But he said the travel limit is a sanction on Americans, not Cubans.
"Let's give our people a chance to travel, bring money to spend, new ideas, new values and real change," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Mass., pointed out that the travel restrictions on Cuba do not exist for American travel to any other country in the world. "This thing hasn't worked," Leahy said in a Capitol news conference Thursday.
Leahy and Flake flew to Cuba to pick up government contractor Alan Gross who had been imprisoned in Cuba for five years and was released when the normalization efforts were announced last month.
The bill comes as Cuba's President Raul Castro has demanded a return of the U.S. Guantanamo military base to Cuba, a complete lifting of the U.S. trade embargo and compensation for its effects on Cuba.
The U.S. and Cuba began their first round of talks a week ago and more negotiations discussions are scheduled.
The president's efforts to soften the relationship between the countries is opposed by several anti-Castro members of Congress who are of Cuban descent.
"It's incredible that my colleagues want to give concessions to a ruler who has asked for more from the United States," Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. said referring to Castro's new demands. "The reality is facilitating travel to Cuba, where someone can spend as much money as they want, the only thing it does is empower the regime."
In addition to Flake, Durbin and Leahy, D-Vt.; Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; Tom Udall, D-N.M.; Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. and John Boozman, R-Ark. are sponsors of the bill. A companion bill is planned to be introduced in the House next week by Reps. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Mark Sanford, R-S.C.
Flake said more sponsors would be added in coming days.