- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 27, 2005

A Republican congressman will try to repeal President Bush’s policy on embryonic stem-cell research when the House Energy and Commerce committee considers a bill to reauthorize the National Institutes of Health budget.

Rep. Charles Bass, New Hampshire Republican, will offer a proposal to repeal the policy Mr. Bush outlined in an August 2001 speech.

Mr. Bush’s policy granted federal funding to embryonic stem-cell research for the first time, but limited such funding to research involving a group of stem-cell lines already created at the time. Mr. Bass’ proposal would lift that limitation and allow any stem-cell line to be eligible for such funding, as long as it meets certain medical and ethical standards.

The panel has not yet scheduled the NIH bill for consideration, but Mr. Bass is working to garner support for his proposal.

“The congressman feels that this is an area of potentially life-saving research,” said Bass spokeswoman Margo Schideler. “He believes that lifting these restrictions would pave the way for medical breakthroughs.”

His proposal is taken from a bill — sponsored by Reps. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican, and Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat — that has 171 House members supporting it. A Senate companion bill is sponsored by Sens. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, and Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat.

Supporters of the bill say embryonic stem-cell research holds the key to breakthrough cures and that the government should invest as much as possible in it. Their effort to roll back Mr. Bush’s policy appears to have momentum, but conservative forces are gearing up to fight it.

“We will be up on the Hill stopping Mr. Bass’ bill,” said Connie Mackey, vice president for governmental relations at the Family Research Council. “We are preparing what we can to stop him in that effort.”

One of the main arguments of FRC and other conservative supporters of the Bush policy is that those promoting embryonic stem-cell research exaggerate its promise. Conservatives say more important results are emerging from adult stem-cell research.

“There’s little evidence at this point that embryonic stem cells will make good on the promises for treatment,” said David Prentice, FRC’s senior counsel for life sciences. “The evidence is all on the side of adult stem cells, which are already treating thousands of patients.”

Mr. Prentice said that at least 56 diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and sickle cell anemia, are being treated with adult stem cells, which do not require the destruction of human embryos. By contrast, he said, embryonic stem-cell research has not produced results even in animal tests.

House Republican aides said that if Mr. Bass manages to attach his proposal to the NIH bill it could be bad news for the measure, because leadership probably will not bring legislation to the floor that overturns Mr. Bush’s policy.

“I don’t think this is something that leadership would support,” agreed Rep. Joseph Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican. “So if this amendment were tacked on, I think it would be a poison pill for the NIH bill. … Plus, I don’t think this bill is the right forum to debate a repeal of the president’s stem-cell policy.”

Aides also noted that Mr. Bush would veto anything that goes against his wishes.

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