Bipartisan Group of Senators Asks President Bush To Reconsider Veto Threat on Stem Cell Research Bill
A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday asked President Bush to reconsider his veto threat of a bill (S 471/HR 810) that would loosen restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, but Bush refused, saying his position on the issue is "very clear," the Washington Times reports (DeBose/Curl, Washington Times, 5/26). The measure would expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and allow research using stem cells derived from embryos originally created for fertility treatments and willingly donated by patients. The bill would not allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research on stem cell lines or embryos created expressly for research purposes.
The current embryonic stem cell research policy allows federal funding for the research only when the cells are extracted from stem cell lines created on or before Aug. 9, 2001, the date that President Bush announced the policy. However, critics of Bush's policy have said that the available stem cell lines are not biologically diverse, are contaminated with nonhuman material and are useless for research into possible cures for degenerative diseases.
The House on Tuesday voted 238-194 to approve HR 810, with 50 Republicans voting in favor of the measure. The Senate is expected to take up S 471 soon, and the measure likely has enough support to pass. Bush has said he would veto the measure (California Healthline, 5/25).
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who is the primary sponsor of S 471, on Wednesday "issued a stark challenge" to Bush, saying that there are enough votes in favor of the bill in the Senate to override a presidential veto, the New York Times reports. "I don't like veto threats, and I don't like statements about overriding veto threats," Specter said, adding, "But if a veto threat is going to come from the White House, then the response from the Congress is to override the veto, if we can" (Stolberg, New York Times, 5/26).
However, Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.), who is the sponsor of HR 810, said there is "no way" that he could secure the 290 votes necessary for the House to override a veto, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. "I can't tell you what I've been through to get to 238 votes," Castle said, adding, "The concept of that many people changing their minds is not realistic. What is realistic is a strong vote in the Senate and to convince the president to change course because it's the right thing to do" (Epstein, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/26).
House Rules Committee Chair David Dreier (R-Calif.) said he has spoken with former first lady Nancy Reagan about finding "some kind of middle ground" on the embryonic stem cell research issue, according to the Washington Post.
However, Bush does not want to seek a compromise, according to the Post. Bush spokesperson Trent Duffy said that the president has drawn a "very bright line that taxpayer dollars should not be used to destroy life," adding that it would be "difficult to blur that line" to find a compromise, according to the Post (Allen/Weiss, Washington Post, 5/26).
Specter on Wednesday also called on Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to schedule a vote on the bill, the Boston Globe reports (Klein, Boston Globe, 5/26). Frist, who supports Bush's position, has not been clear about when a vote might be called, saying it could take place in "the coming weeks (or) months," according to Roll Call (Preston, Roll Call, 5/26).
If Frist does not schedule a vote on the bill, Specter said that he will attach the language loosening restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to other bills, according to the Globe (Boston Globe, 5/26). Opponents of the bill in the Senate might attempt to block a vote on the measure, according to Roll Call.
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) said, "This is a use of taxpayer money to destroy ... human life," adding, "I will ... use all the tools at my availability because we shouldn't be using taxpayer dollars to destroy human life" (Roll Call, 5/26).
Specter said that the bill has the 60 votes needed in the Senate to end a potential filibuster and that there might be 67 votes needed to override a veto, according to the Globe (Boston Globe, 5/26).
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who is a "staunch" opponent of the bill, said the next step on the issue should be requiring fertility clinics to establish a code of conduct on dealing with unused embryos, according to CQ HealthBeat. "At the very least, you ought to have the medical associations, the medical ethics boards, create a code of conduct for in vitro fertilization clinics to inform these couples as to what this process is all about," DeLay said (CQ HealthBeat, 5/25).