Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has persuaded two Democratic senators to drop opposition to the omnibus spending bill that was linked to their concern over changes to sanctions on Cuba.
Geithner has written Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez and Bill Nelson to assure them that the measure does not change rules that required payment before importing U.S. goods, food and medicine. He also assured them that another provision regarding business travel to market such exports will not open a loophole that would make travel to Cuba easier.
"There will be ... virtually no change from current policy as it relates to agricultural sales and as it relates to business travel to Cuba by those who seek to make sales," said Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, who has been working with the Democratic pair on the issue.
Menendez said he would now support allowing the bill to advance after withholding support last week when Majority Leader Harry Reid was just one vote short of the 60 needed to advance the measure.
A different provision to restore travel rules permitting Cuban-Americans to visit relatives in Cuba once every 12 months was less controversial and not at issue in the talks with Treasury.
President George W. Bush imposed rules in 2004 that limited travel to just two weeks every three years and confined visits to immediate family members.
President Barack Obama, during last year's campaign, promised to allow Cuban-Americans to visit their families on the island more frequently.
"If there is to be a new strategy toward Cuba then it must come from our commander in chief, not from the tinkering of a few lawmakers inserting language in a must-pass appropriations bill without any opportunity for debate," said Nelson, who has agreed to vote for the bill.
At the White House, presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs said Geithner wanted to assuage the concerns of members of Congress who worried that the provisions might not match up with what the bill's intentions.
Menendez and Nelson are key lawmakers on issues related to Cuba. Menendez is of Cuban descent and both come from states where Cuban-Americans constitute a crucial and vocal constituency.
A strict U.S. embargo on other exports to Cuba remains in place, as do restrictions on most travel.
Geithner wrote that the administration is "currently reviewing United States policy toward Cuba to determine the best way to foster democratic change in Cuba and improve the lives of the Cuban people."
Concerns about human rights and political freedom in Cuba and Cuba's support for leftist guerrilla movements have been the main reasons cited by American presidents since John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s for attempting to isolate the Caribbean nation.