- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

The Senate is expected to approve a bill tomorrow that would allow federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research beyond what President Bush has permitted, setting up a dramatic election-year showdown with Mr. Bush, who has promised to veto the bill.

The House approved the bill last year, and Mr. Bush, who has never used his presidential veto, has said he’ll reject it. The Republican Party is split over the legislation, which would allow federal funding for stem-cell research that uses embryos left over from fertility clinics. Mr. Bush’s 2001 policy allowed federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research as well but limited it to stem-cell lines existing then.

Although several Senate backers of the bill — including Republican sponsor Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania — said last week that they hope Mr. Bush will sign it, most expect a veto. A House vote to override that veto would follow, and few expect the supporters to get the required two-thirds majority.

Democrats plan to use the issue against Republicans this election year, and it already has cropped up in some races, including that of Sen. Jim Talent, Missouri Republican.

But Mr. Bush’s not vetoing it would be “political suicide” because “it would destroy his relationship with the [Republican] base,” said Rep. Ray LaHood, Illinois Republican.

“His poll numbers would sink into the teens,” said one conservative pro-life activist. “It’s a no-brainer.”

The activist added, however, that Mr. Bush will veto the bill not mainly because of political concerns but “because it violates the ethics he laid out in his policy.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, who announced earlier this year that he supports the legislation, struck a deal for a Senate vote on the House bill a few weeks ago. The Democrats and Republicans who demanded a Senate vote say embryonic stem cells, which have the ability to develop into virtually any cell in the body, have the potential to cure a host of diseases and ailments — but only if the research is encouraged.

Many conservatives oppose the bill, however, because the embryos must be destroyed to extract their stem cells for the research. As a result, the Frist deal also requires the Senate to vote on two related bills. Many conservatives support the other bills, in part because it would let the public know that they do support stem-cell research that doesn’t destroy embryos.

One bill would encourage research into alternative methods that derive stem cells without harming embryos. That measure is sponsored by Mr. Specter and Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican facing a tough re-election race. The second bill, sponsored by Mr. Santorum and Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, would make it illegal to initiate human pregnancies in women or animals to obtain human tissues for research.

Under Mr. Frist’s agreement, all three bills would need 60 votes to pass the Senate. All are expected to gain approval. The House is likely to approve the other two bills later this week.

Still, Democrats say a veto of the main embryonic stem-cell bill will resonate negatively with voters — to Democrats’ advantage.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said a veto will particularly anger moderate Republicans and independents. The embryonic stem-cell debate is “one of the most salient issues in the ‘06 elections,” he said.

But some Senate Republicans said the fight will blow over. “This is like a Washington thunderstorm — it booms through and moves on,” said one Senate Republican aide, predicting “no lasting impact.”

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