cell proposals vary widely
Action may be put
off until September
WASHINGTON — The Senate is having trouble
deciding how to approach the controversial issue of stem cell
research using human embryos, dimming hopes of Sen. Arlen Specter,
R-Pa., and other supporters that a bill will pass before the summer
recess begins Friday.
In May, 50 House Republicans defied President
Bush's veto threat to help pass a bill that would allow federal
funding for research using donated embryos that would otherwise be
discarded by fertility clinics. President Bush limited such research
to stem cell lines that existed Aug. 9, 2001. He has said he opposes
spending taxpayer money “to promote science that destroys life in
order to save life.”
Patients' groups and high-profile advocates
such as former first lady Nancy Reagan and actor Michael J. Fox say
the research could help provide cures for Parkinson's, diabetes and
other diseases. A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll in May found 53% favor
easing the restrictions or having no limits on funding, tracking a
similar survey last year.
The 238-194 House vote, though short of a
veto-proof majority, lent momentum to an identical bill by Specter
and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. It also put some Republican senators
such as Majority Leader Bill Frist and Kay Bailey Hutchison who want
to encourage more research — but are reluctant to cross Bush — in a
Frist, R-Tenn., is trying to get Minority
Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to agree on votes on several bills, and
that has left Specter and other supporters frustrated.
“I have grave concerns that the issues (in
the different bills) can be crystallized and understood,” Specter
said. “We waited long enough.”
He is weighing whether to attach his measure
to a must-pass bill paying for operations at the Health and Human
Services Department and other federal agencies. If Specter is
successful, it would force the Senate into negotiations with the
House of Representatives over stem cell research and put Bush in the
position of possibly vetoing the health spending bill. Still, the
issue may be on hold until September at the earliest while a Supreme
Court confirmation hearing, spending bills and other business occupy
One analyst says the different bills offer
senators some protection. “It looks like an effort to find cover for
Republicans who don't want to vote for the House bill but don't want
to be out there opposing something that's very popular with most
Americans,” said Norman Ornstein, a congressional expert at the
American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.
Despite the maneuvering, senators who support
the Specter bill defended Frist's management of the issue. Sen.
Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a supporter of embryonic stem cell research,
called it “a legitimate attempt to try to give everyone something
they can be for.”
There were bills for those who want to end
all embryonic stem cell research and for those willing to expand
research with some limits:
•Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who equates
destroying an embryo for research with abortion, has drafted a bill
that would ban all human cloning, including human embryonic stem
•Hutchison, R-Texas, usually a reliable Bush
vote, offers a compromise that would move the cutoff date for using
frozen embryos in research to the day her bill would become law.
That would make 400,000 existing embryos eligible to be donated for
research. The new deadline “would discourage any possibility of
having an industry of creating embryos to destroy them” she said.
“It's the best combination of ethical restrictions but one that
allows moving forward to do the research.”
Harkin says those opposed to his bill on
moral grounds aren't likely to accept Hutchison's. “If (Bush) can
accept that, he can accept ours,” Harkin says.
•Frist, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and
George Allen of Virginia are among Senate Republicans backing a bill
supported by the White House that would fund research that extracted
stem cells from human embryos without destroying them. Many
scientists, including Harvard's George Daley, a stem cell
researcher, say such “alternatives” are unproved and would divert
and delay legitimate medical research.
•Hatch has a bill that would fund research to
extract stem cells from umbilical cord blood and bone marrow. A
similar House measure passed overwhelmingly.
White House spokesman Trent Duffy says Bush
wants “to balance the science and ethics” of stem cell research
“without using taxpayer money to destroy human embryos.”
American University political scientist James
Thurber says Bush hasn't built public support for his position on
stem cell research and “may get rolled on this
Specter: Senate lacks
veto-proof vote for stem cell work
Despite a boost from the majority
leader, there is not enough Senate support now to override a
threatened veto if Congress tries to ease restrictions on embryonic
stem cell research, a key proponent said Sunday.
A favorable Senate vote is considered more
likely now that Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has reversed
his position to support more federal dollars for research. However,
the Senate vote will not matter if, as lawmakers predicted, a veto
by President Bush stands in the House.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who sponsors a bill
easing restrictions that Bush put in place, said Frist gave his side
"a big boost." A vote on the bill could come in September.
While a bill would pass the Senate with a
simple majority, 67 senators would be needed to fend off a veto by
Bush if all 100 senators voted.
"My analysis is that we have 62 votes at the
present time, and we've got about 15 more people who are thinking it
over," Specter said on "Face the Nation" on CBS. "I believe that by
the time the vote comes up, we'll have 67."
On the same program, a leading opponent of
embryonic stem cell research, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., countered:
"You don't have the votes in the House of Representatives to
overcome a presidential veto."
The bill passed the House in May by 44 votes,
under the two-thirds of the 435-member House needed to override a
veto. However, Specter said Frist's endorsement could provide "a
little political cover" for House members to vote to override.
Supporters of the research believe that stem
cells, which potentially can grow into any type of tissue in the
body, hold the promise of one day treating Alzheimer's and
Parkinson's diseases, cancer, diabetes, spinal cord injuries and
"It's one of the most exciting medical findings
of our age," Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said on CNN's "Late
However, even supporters allow that successful
stem cell treatments are still years away. Foes of the research
consider it the equivalent of abortion because embryos must be
destroyed to harvest the stem cells.
"And this is an innocent human life," Sen. Rick
Santorum, R-Pa., said on "This Week" on ABC. "You're destroying this
life for the purpose of research which has questionable value."
Santorum said that "without question, the
president will veto this."
Bush in 2001 banned federal dollars for stem
cell research beyond existing cell lines, although private groups
have paid for some new research. The bill in Congress would lift