- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Some Republicans said they have been unable to define their opposition to the embryonic-stem-cell bill as criticism of the use of government money rather than being about the research itself.

“I don’t think we’ve made that case yet — that this is an issue of federal dollars,” said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican. “This is only a debate of whether we want to use the taxpayer dollars of millions of Americans to fund research they find objectionable.”

Instead however, many Americans think Congress is debating whether to ban embryonic-stem-cell research, conservatives said.

“I think the casual observer in the public thinks this is about whether this activity can actually happen,” said Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican who opposed the embryonic-stem-cell bill approved by the House and Senate but vetoed by President Bush yesterday.

“That’s not the choice,” said Rep. Roger Wicker, Mississippi Republican. “Embryonic-stem-cell research is legal in America.”

He said he and other conservatives simply think the government shouldn’t be subsidizing it with taxpayer dollars.

The bill, which has the support of most Democrats and some Republicans, would have allowed federal funding for stem-cell research that uses embryos left over from in vitro fertilization clinics. In 2001, Mr. Bush allowed federal funding to go to embryonic-stem-cell research that used stem-cell lines already created.

Mr. Vitter said he tried to make the point that “we shouldn’t be funding research that is clearly controversial,” but he’s not sure the funding message got through.

“I certainly think it is not widely understood,” he said.

Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, said conservative opponents of the main bill have also lost the public debate over the value of nonembryonic-stem-cell research.

“We haven’t successfully gotten that message out there,” he said, though he didn’t know why.

“We need to be more aggressive and effective at talking up those other alternatives,” Mr. Vitter said.

Some said that effort was clearly hurt by a misstep in the House this week.

“What the House did, didn’t help,” said Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican.

He referred to the House’s defeat Tuesday night of a bill supported by many conservatives, that would have encouraged alternative methods of stem-cell research that don’t harm embryos. The Senate approved the bill 100-0, but House Republican leaders were caught off-guard when Democrats and some Republicans banned together to defeat it in the House.

The idea had been that conservatives who opposed the main stem-cell bill could support the alternative-research bill, which Mr. Bush would have signed yesterday.

Still, some Republicans said the embryonic-stem-cell issue just isn’t playing as widely as Democrats think and hope.

“The Middle East is dominating everything right now,” Mr. Ensign said.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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