Sunday, April 10, 2005

House conservatives, upset that Republican leaders have agreed to a vote on expanding President Bush’s embryonic stem-cell research policy, are deciding how they will fight back.

“The pro-life, pro-family base is very, very concerned about this,” said Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican. “Some of them are upset. … We are actively engaged in this now and will be developing a strategy.”

House Republican leaders have told Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican, and other advocates that they can have a vote on legislation to expand Mr. Bush’s 2001 policy that limited federal research funding to a group of embryonic stem-cell lines already available at the time.

Mr. Castle said he and Mr. Pitts are negotiating with House leaders which bill will be presented and the time frame for the vote.

House aides on both sides of the issue say a bill Mr. Castle drafted, or one similar to it, probably has sufficient votes to pass. Mr. Castle’s bill, which has 186 bipartisan co-sponsors, would allow researchers to use embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics that otherwise would be discarded.

Pro-life groups oppose the expansion, saying human embryos are destroyed when stem cells are collected for research. They say more than enough embryonic stem-cell lines are available under current federal policy, and that greater promise lies in adult stem-cell research.

“A lot of people are not educated about this,” Mr. Pitts said.

Mr. Castle and his supporters say embryonic stem cells, which can develop into any body cell, hold promise for treating many ailments.

“We’re trying to … open up the world of embryonic stem cells,” Mr. Castle said. He argues that current policy is squelching such research.

Daniel Perry, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, said momentum has been building in Congress and in the public over the past few years to expand embryonic stem-cell research. Last year, 206 members of the House and 58 members of the Senate wrote to Mr. Bush asking him to expand his policy. Mr. Perry said such a bill would pass both chambers.

The office of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, would not comment. Mr. Hastert was the one who promised the vote, Mr. Castle said.

“What I don’t understand is why they’re allowing this to come to the floor when it goes against the president of their own party,” one House Republican aide said. “It’s going to put [Mr. Bush] in a tough spot. Is this going to be the first thing he vetoes?”

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Mr. Bush continues to stand by the principle that the federal government should not support the destruction of human life.

“His principle has been very clear, and he has not wavered from that principle at all,” Mr. Duffy said.

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