Bush Reiterates Plans To Veto Stem Cell Legislation
President Bush on Tuesday reiterated his plan to veto legislation (HR 810) that would expand federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research if it is passed by the Senate because the research involves the destruction of human embryos, Reuters reports (Kenen, Reuters, 7/12).
The legislation, known as the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, would allow funding for research using stem cells derived from embryos originally created for fertility treatments and willingly donated by patients. The bill seeks to address a policy, announced by Bush on Aug. 9, 2001, that allows federal funding for embryonic stem cell research only when it uses stem cell lines created on or before that date.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) last month came to an agreement with other Senate leaders to bring to the Senate floor by the end of the month the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act and two other stem cell research-related bills. One of the other bills (S 2754), sponsored by Sens. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), would require NIH to research and fund methods of creating embryonic stem cell lines without destroying human embryos. The bill contains a rule that the measure would not affect any regulations regarding embryonic stem cells, human cloning or any other research methods that are currently prohibited. The bill also calls for research on adult stem cells.
The other bill (S 3504) sponsored by Santorum and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), would make it illegal to conduct research on embryos from "fetal farms," where human embryos could be made in a nonhuman uterus or from human pregnancies that were created specifically for the purpose of research.
Under terms of an agreement reached by Senate leaders of both parties, the bills will be debated for 12 hours on a date, likely in July, that will be determined by Frist and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the leaders have said. To pass, each of the bills will need at least 60 votes, and amendments will not be permitted (California Healthline, 6/30).
Specter said that there are enough supporters to pass each of the three bills, according to USA Today (Stone, USA Today, 7/11). According to the Wall Street Journal, the White House plans to support the Santorum and Specter bill and likely will support the Santorum and Brownback bill (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 7/12).
Four Senate Democrats, including Reid, on Tuesday urged Frist to schedule floor debate, writing, "Further delay in the Senate will only mean more lost opportunities for new cures and treatments" (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 7/11).
According to Senate GOP aides, Frist hopes to have the Senate's votes on the measures completed by the middle of next week, and, if Bush does veto the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, that it would occur on the same day, Roll Call reports (Stanton/Billings, Roll Call, 7/12).
Reps. Michael Castle (R-Del.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) on Monday planned to renew a request to meet with Bush to persuade him to sign the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act if it is passed by the Senate.
The White House on Tuesday in a letter declined the meeting, writing, "Although the president would appreciate meeting with you, we are unable to accommodate your request. Thank you for understanding." The letter did not provide details as to why the meeting would not occur, the Denver Post reports (Denver Post, 7/11).
DeGette said, "It's regrettable that President Bush will not even grant us the common courtesy of a meeting to discuss stem cell research," adding, "However, it's downright insulting that, at the same time, he sent his head political adviser to my hometown with a veto threat" (AP/CBS4Denver, 7/11).
White House spokesperson Ken Lisaius on Tuesday said, "This legislation crosses an important moral line, adding that the president, "doesn't think we need to choose between science and ethics, and within the right policies we can have both. We will veto this bill" (Reuters, 7/11).
Bush's potential veto on the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act could affect the November elections, CongressDaily reports. Senate Democrats are "convinced" that a veto on the bill would make stem cells a "wedge issue," according to CongressDaily.
"It's huge," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair, said, adding that Republican candidates might feel a backlash from moderate Republican "swing voters" who are opposed to Bush's stance on embryonic stem cell research. The "American people don't like ideologues," and "any party that aligns with the ideologues loses," Schumer added.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Monday said that she "hope[s] the president reconsiders" using his first-ever veto to block the stem cell legislation.
Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday said that Bush likely would not reconsider his position. "The president has a very well-stated position, and I'm sure he will act accordingly," he said (Congress Daily, 7/12).
Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, "If this is the president's first veto, it's going to have an impact on his administration and his legacy" (Roll Call, 7/12).