Stem Cell Legislation Goes to Bush
The Senate on Tuesday voted 63-37 to approve a House-approved bill (HR 810) that would expand federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research and sent the bill to President Bush, who on Wednesday is expected to veto the measure, the AP/TheDenverChannel.com reports. Bush is expected to explain during a White House Rose Garden news conference on Wednesday why he is using the first veto of his presidency on the measure, called the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 (AP/TheDenverChannel.com, 7/18).
The bill would allow funding for research using stem cells derived from embryos originally created for fertility treatments and willingly donated by patients. The legislation 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.
The House last year voted 238-194 to pass the measure, a vote count 50 votes shy of the number needed to override a potential veto (California Healthline, 7/18). The Senate vote count was four votes under the number needed for a potential veto override.
Nineteen Republicans, 43 Democrats and independent Sen. James Jeffords (Vt.) voted to pass the measure, while 36 Republicans and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) voted against it (Babington, Washington Post, 7/19).
House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that "[t]he sooner the House" votes on a veto override, "the better" (Hulse, New York Times, 7/19).
Lawmakers supporting the measure said they will continue seeking to lift some of the restrictions created by Bush's policy even if the president vetoes the legislation, AP/ABC News reports.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), said, "The unfortunate part is, if the president does veto the bill, then it sets us back a year or so until we can finally pass a bill that will have the requisite supermajority to be able to become law," adding, "And that sets back embryonic stem cell research another year or so" (Dalryumple, AP/ABC News, 7/19).
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said, "The president believes strongly that for the purpose of research, it's inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder" (Hook, Los Angeles Times, 7/19).
The Senate on Tuesday also voted 100-0 to pass two other stem cell-related bills, the AP/Detroit Free Press reports (Kellman, AP/Detroit Free Press, 7/19).
One of the measures (S 2754), sponsored by Sens. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Sen. 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 currently are prohibited and calls for research on adult stem cells.
The other bill (S 3504), sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Santorum, 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 (American Health Line, 7/18).
The House later on Tuesday unanimously voted to approve the Brownback-Santorum bill (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 7/19). However, the chamber's vote of 273-154 to approve the Santorum-Specter bill was not enough to pass the House under suspended House rules, CQ Today reports (Crowley, CQ Today, 7/18).
Fifteen Republicans and 138 Democrats voted against the measure. According to CongressDaily, House Republican leaders hoped to hold a regular vote on Santorum's bill on Wednesday, which would require only a simple majority to pass, but a Republican leadership staff member said the bill will not be part of the package sent to President Bush on Wednesday (Heil, CongressDaily, 7/14).
Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Michael Castle (R-Del.), co-sponsors of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, "worked informally" to organize opposition to a vote on Santorum's bill, according to CQ Today. DeGette said Republicans had planned to pass the measure to provide a "fig leaf" over Bush's veto, adding that the Santorum bill could cause NIH to misdirect funds from needed research (CQ Today, 7/18).
Also on Tuesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) sent a letter to Bush urging him to approve legislation that would expand federal funding for stem cell research programs. Schwarzenegger wrote that if Bush vetoes the legislation it would "send a disastrous message to limit the role the federal government must play in pursuing the most promising forms of the most basics scientific research." Schwarzenegger writes that the "expansion of federal funding is critical to ensuring that U.S. research efforts remain at the forefront of global innovation" (Office of the Governor release, 7/18).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.