Bush Will Block ‘Any Efforts’ to Expand Federal Funding for Stem Cell Research
Aides to President Bush said he plans to "oppose any efforts to broaden" funding for embryonic stem cell research beyond the guidelines he announced on Thursday night, the Washington Post reports (Connolly, Washington Post, 8/13). Bush said that his administration will allow federal funding for experiments involving stem cells already derived from embryos but not for research that would cause the destruction of further embryos. Approximately 60 isolated stem cell lines currently exist. HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said that "neither unexpected scientific breakthroughs nor unanticipated research problems would cause Bush to reconsider the strict limits on stem cell research funding he set last week." White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card added, "We think there are more than enough lines around the world and in the United States to conduct this important research." But the Los Angeles Times reports that Card "did not close the door as firmly as did Thompson to a further reconsideration" of the guidelines "if researchers conclude the existing lines are inadequate." Card said that such a situation is "a hypothetical that I don't think we'll have to get to" (Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, 8/13). Card added, however, that Bush "would be willing" to place tighter regulations on privately funded embryonic stem cell research, stating that if Congress were to pass a bill banning privately funded experiments, Bush would likely sign it (Washington Post, 8/13).
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) is among a number of "key" lawmakers pondering legislation to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, the Boston Globe reports. Daschle said last week that "the Senate will want to take action" on the issue once it returns from its August recess (Kornblut, Boston Globe, 8/13). A spokesperson for Daschle said that the senator favors "moving forward with federal funding for stem cell research without the restrictions the president put on the research" (Goldstein, Washington Post, 8/11). The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the issue "as early as Sept. 5." Committee Chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said, "The president's decision is an important step forward, but doesn't go far enough to fulfill the lifesaving potential of this promising new medical research. I'm optimistic that Congress will enact the legislation needed to enable this research to go forward, with proper ethical and scientific oversight" (Fulton, CongressDaily, 8/10). Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, said that the subcommittee would hold a hearing on the issue early next month. Harkin said that a "critical issue" during the hearings will be the number of existing stem cell lines, which is estimated to be around 60 or 65. "If there really are 65 [lines], then that might be enough to support the beginning of robust research," Harkin said. But he added that he has heard "serious doubts about that number" and said that if there are only "half that many" lines, the supply for researchers would be "inadequate" (Clymer, New York Times, 8/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.