- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2007

The House yesterday passed a bipartisan bill expanding federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, although not with enough support to override a likely presidential veto.

The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, which passed by a vote of 253-174, is identical to legislation that President Bush vetoed last summer — an act that the White House yesterday vowed to repeat.

The measure, which Democrats expect to be approved by the Senate, increases the limited number of embryonic stem-cell lines eligible for federal funding from the 78 the White House allows under an August 2001 executive order.

Despite the promise of a veto, the new Democratic majority says expanding stem-cell research is a winning issue that paints Mr. Bush as extreme.

Backers of the bill say embryonic stem-cell research can be used to develop treatments for diseases, such as Parkinson’s. Supporters also said yesterday that they have other options of expanding stem-cell research, including attaching the issue to a “must-pass” bill such as a spending measure.

“We have a moral obligation to provide our scientific community with the tools it needs to save lives,” said Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.

The bill states that the research would be done under “strict ethical guidelines” and that funding would only apply to stem-cell lines from embryos that “would otherwise be discarded by fertility clinics.”

But pro-life members from both parties oppose embryonic stem-cell research, arguing that it destroys life in the process of harvesting the cells. They also said the measure should have been put on hold because of recent research showing that amniotic fluid can be used to produce stem cells without destroying life.

Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio urged his colleagues to instead study those new methods, saying, “We are going to find out that we are not going to need to destroy human embryos to get the kind of promise that we want.

“I’ve got 11 brothers and sisters. I’m sure it wasn’t convenient for my mother to have twelve of us, but I’m sure glad that she did,” he said. “Taxpayer funds shouldn’t be used to destroy the human life, pure and simple.”

Researchers at the Wake Forest and Harvard medical schools concluded that stem cells found in amniotic fluid are versatile and available and could have equal benefits to embryonic cells.

However, the measure’s sponsors, Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado and Republican Rep. Michael N. Castle of Delaware, said the lead scientist wrote a letter, saying the study should not slow down embryonic research.

Stem-cell-research supporters have gained votes since failing to override Mr. Bush’s July veto, the first of his presidency. That vote was 235-193, 55 votes shy of the needed majority.

The Democrats campaigned on a pledge to fund stem-cell research, an issue that resonated with the American people in part because of the advocacy work of celebrities, including actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson’s disease and appeared in ads for candidates who supported the research.

Mrs. DeGette cited a poll showing 71 percent of Americans support embryonic research and said U.S. researchers are “tethered” by Mr. Bush’s six-year-old policy.

Yesterday’s debate allowed freshmen Democrats to give floor speeches and refer to constituents with diseases who could benefit from the research.

Freshman Rep. Harry Mitchell of Arizona called the bill “the best hope for a cure,” and Rep. Patrick J. Murphy of Pennsylvania said embryonic research is a “medical miracle.”

All but three of the Democratic freshmen supported the bill.

Mrs. DeGette said Mr. Bush has refused to meet with her or Mr. Castle, but they hope to convince him that opinion — and votes — are on their side.

“While that is not enough to overcome a veto threat, it is enough to show that we’ve got tremendous momentum,” Mrs. DeGette said.

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk said the measure’s passage is symbolic.

“In my view, this policy will become the law of the land [in] January 2009 no matter what,” the Illinois Republican said. “Senator McCain, right now the leading Republican candidate for president, is pro-stem-cell research, as is Senator Clinton, so our job here is to get the inevitable to happen as early as possible.”

He was referring to Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York — both of whom are considered front-runners for their party’s nomination.

Many praised the measure as helping the United States remain globally competitive.

Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, said the measure also helps encourage scientists to be patient and not to leave the country for places such as Britain, which allows such research.

“This is not a matter of pro-life versus pro-choice but rather a matter of humanity,” Mr. Shays said, later declaring, “The dark ages are over. … God gave us the intellect to differentiate between dogma and science.”

But Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican and a scientist, said, “It is unnecessary to harm or destroy embryos to obtain cell lines for research.”

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