The Democrat-led Congress passed legislation yesterday to permit the expansion of federally funded research of human embryonic stem cells, but it's unlikely to survive President Bush's promised veto.
The House voted 247-176, with 37 Republicans joining 210 Democrats in approving the bill, about 35 votes shy of a two-thirds majority needed to override Mr. Bush. The president vetoed essentially the same measure last year.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Mr. Bush should sign the legislation that has cleared both chambers and provides the potential to "save lives, find cures and give hope to those suffering."
The legislation would allow federal funding of research on new lines of leftover embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics, which prompted Mr. Bush's first-ever veto last year.
President Bush said yesterday that he also will veto this year's version of the bill.
"If this bill were to become law, American taxpayers would for the first time in our history be compelled to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos," he said in Germany, where he was attending a summit of world leaders. "Crossing that line would be a grave mistake."
Critics of the measure say human embryos should not be destroyed for medical research and that more promising research involving adult stem cells and blood taken from babies' umbilical cords should be where government puts its focus.
They add that the proposed legislation would divert funding away from current stem-cell research programs.
"The question here is not whether you support stem-cell research; the question is whether taxpayers should be forced to fund ethically questionable research," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
Mr. Bush's 2001 stem-cell policy allows federal funding to go to a limited number of embryonic stem-cell lines that existed at that time. It does not bar private research on embryos that are discarded by clinics.
The stem-cell issue has split the Republican Party, with Mr. Bush siding with the Catholic Church and social conservatives against the party's moderate voices.
Proponents of expanded embryonic stem-cell research say it likely holds the key to curing any number of ailments, because embryonic stem cells have the potential to develop into virtually any type of body cell.
"We have a moral obligation to provide our scientific community with the tools its needs to save lives," said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. "This legislation does not seek nor does it certainly intend to destroy life; it seeks to preserve life."
Polls have shown a large majority Americans support public financing of embryonic stem-cell research.
The Senate in April passed the bill by a vote of 63-34 — four votes short of a two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.
Because a veto would have to clear both congressional chambers, the bill appears doomed.
Still, Democrats have hope for a veto override.
Senate Democrats say they are one vote shy of reaching a two-thirds majority, and have targeted several potential crossover voters, particularly Sen. John E. Sununu, New Hampshire Republican.
A successful veto override in the Senate, as the bill's originating chamber would vote first, could inspire reluctant House members to do the same, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
The House voted a day after three teams of scientists announced they had produced the equivalent of embryonic stem cells in the skin of mice without destroying embryos.