Changes to U.S. Cuba toward Cuba are starting in about the screwiest way you could imagine. Senators Menendez and Nelson were going to hold up the entire $410 billion spending bill because of relaxation of rules about travel to Cuba. So Treasury Secretary Geithner testified and also put into writing that Treasury will interpret the new rules very narrowly, thus not changing them much in practice. That got the votes.
Everyone is trying to proclaim victory, but even a Bush administration official thinks the Obama administration got what it wanted. The strategy was, it seems, rather Bush-like.
''The senators have this letter from Treasury saying, 'We're not going to follow this,' but six months from now, will [Obama administration officials] remember that letter, or are they going to follow the law?'' said Carlos Gutierrez, former secretary of commerce under Bush. ''Treasury is going to have to follow the letter of the law.''
He laughed and added: ''It's the kind of letter we would have signed.''
None of this is a big deal yet. It was not Obama's idea to push forward on Cuba in these first spending bills (though he may well have given tacit agreement). At some point he will put forward a plan for Cuba policy, and then the serious debate will get going.