Frist Support of Stem Cell Research Legislation Could Help Passage
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-Tenn.) announcement on Friday that he supports legislation (HR 810/S 471) that would expand federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research "gave new traction" to the measure in the Senate, but the White House said President Bush has not changed his position on the issue, the Wall Street Journal reports (Wysocki, Wall Street Journal, 8/1).
Bush's current policy allows federal funding for embryonic stem cell research only when conducted using stem cell lines created on or before Aug. 9, 2001, while the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 -- which has been approved by the House but has stalled in the Senate -- would allow funding for research using stem cells derived from embryos originally created for fertility treatments and willingly donated by patients (California Healthline, 7/29). Frist, who is a medical doctor and previously supported Bush's embryonic stem cell research policy, on Friday said, "We should expand federal funding ... and current guidelines governing stem cell research, carefully and thoughtfully staying within ethical bounds" (Fagan, Washington Times, 7/30).
Bush has said he would veto the measure if the Senate approves it, and White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan on Friday said, "I think the president has made his position very clear. Nothing has changed in terms of his position" (Mulkern, Denver Post, 7/30).
Frist now must reach a deal with senators to allow the bill to come to a vote in the Senate. However, he might have introduced an impediment to the bill's approval by insisting it undergo "a thoughtful and thorough rewrite" because of ethical concerns, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. According to bill advocates, any changes made to the legislation would decrease its chances of approval if it goes to a House-Senate conference committee (Kuhnhenn, Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/30).
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who is sponsoring the measure in the Senate, on Sunday said at least 62 senators support the legislation, and he is hoping to gain support from at least 67 senators, which is the number of votes needed to override a presidential veto, the Los Angeles Times reports. Although the measure did not pass with a veto-proof margin in the House, Specter said that Senate momentum in support of the bill could persuade some House members who originally voted against the bill to vote to override a presidential veto (Reynolds, Los Angeles Times, 8/1).