Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A bill proposing to expand federal funding for human embryonic stem-cell research is expected to pass the Senate this week but is one or two votes shy of having enough support to override a veto.

Democrats are trying to rally a “couple” more votes to raise the potential of overriding President Bush’s threatened veto of legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

“From Senator Reid’s perspective, it will be very close,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for the Nevada Democrat.

Proponents say the bill — which would reverse the administration’s ban on federal funding for research on embryonic stem cell lines created after Aug. 9, 2001 — could jump-start research that potentially could save millions of lives.

Critics say it would promote an unethical and immoral use of government money.

Advocates of Mr. Reid’s proposed legislation will have to do without the vote of freshman Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat who — after being heavily wooed by both sides of the stem-cell debate — said last week that he won’t support the bill.

The measure, which is nearly identical to one vetoed by Mr. Bush last year, passed the House in January 253-174 and would need more than 30 additional supporters in that chamber to override Mr. Bush.

With Sen. Tim Johnson, South Dakota Democrat, recovering from a stroke and not expected to be present for a vote, the bill would need 66 votes to override a veto, not the 67 votes necessary with a full 100-member Senate casting ballots.

In addition to the veto threat, Mr. Reid’s bill faces losing votes to a White House-supported measure that skirts the moral and ethical concerns about destroying human embryos.

Republican Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Johnny Isakson of Georgia have drafted a bill that would fund research on some embryos that die naturally and from embryos that have died during fertility treatments.

At least one senator — Jon Tester, Montana Democrat and a freshman — intends to vote for both.

“The [Coleman-Isakson] bill doesn’t really do anything, but it doesn’t do any harm either, so Senator Tester is likely to support both,” Tester spokesman Matt McKenna said.

Freshman Sen. James H. Webb Jr., Virginia Democrat, likely will support Mr. Reid’s bill, spokeswoman Jessica Smith said.

“The senator signed on as a co-sponsor of [the bill] because the act requires that stem-cell research be conducted under strict ethical criteria that respect human life with the goal of developing medical treatments and cures for many debilitating diseases,” Ms. Smith said.

The Senate is scheduled to begin debating the bills today, with a votes expected tomorrow.

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