Republicans Pledge to Stop Stem Cell Bill Again

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

( -Democrats in the House of Representatives on Thursday once again passed legislation that would expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, but Republicans pledged to uphold an anticipated presidential veto.

The House on Thursday afternoon passed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which increases the number of embryonic stem cells available for research funded with federal dollars. The bill passed the Senate (63-34) in April.

In a news conference with Republican opponents of the bill before the bill was passed 247-176, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he is "very confident that we have the votes to uphold the president's veto."

"There have been no cures, no solutions that have come from the development of embryonic stem cells," Boehner said. "This is not a wise use of federal dollars."

President Bush used the first veto of his presidency to block a similar bill in July 2006. The Republican majority in the House prevented Democrats from overturning the veto, a move that requires a two-thirds majority.

When the Senate passed the bill in April, Bush said it "crosses a moral line that I and many others find troubling" and promised to veto it. With a 53 percent majority in the House after the 2006 elections, Democrats still do not have enough votes to overturn a veto if all members vote along party lines.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) said reports Thursday showing the potential to create stem cells from skin cells shows that federal focus should be on "non-controversial, ethical adult stem cell research" instead of controversial embryonic stem cells.

As Cybercast News Service reported, three recent studies have documented the successful creation of "induced pluripotent" stem cells from the skin of mice. The data suggests that the stem cells can be programmed to behave like more versatile embryonic stem cells without destroying a human embryo.

"These cells hold all the promise of embryonic stem cells but without requiring the destruction of human life at its earliest stage," Pitts said, referring to the new mice study as well as other studies showing promise in stem cells from amniotic fluid and from adult stem cells harvested from the nose or bone marrow.

He said adult stem cells show "all of the potential [and] none of the controversy, and yet today we will again vote on legislation promoting stem cell research that has yet to cure a single disease or even treat a single human disease and requires the destruction of human embryos."

"It's time for Congress to acknowledge what's working and what is not," Pitts said. "It's time for Congress to catch up with science."

Echoing Boehner's prediction that Bush will veto the bill, Pitts called it "another example of legislation that Democrats are bringing to the floor knowing it will not become law."

But Democrats passed the bill anyway, showing what House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called "commitment to address the priorities of the American people." During debate on the bill, he challenged Bush to "heed the will of the American people ... and sign this bill."

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), the original sponsor of the House version of the bill, said in a statement Thursday that Congress "has again respected the will of the American people by sending this potentially life-saving legislation to President George W. Bush."

Calling Bush "defiantly stubborn," DeGette said she hoped Bush would change his mind on expanding federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and "listen to the will of the people."

She said 64 percent of Americans support embryonic stem cell research, citing a May 2007 Gallup Poll. According to the Gallup organization, a "solid majority" of Americans support using human embryos in stem cell research, but only 42 percent want to ease the restrictions on federal funding of the research.

Hoyer said current restrictions on the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research "severely restrict the potential for life-saving breakthroughs," adding that the effort to expand funding "seeks to preserve life."

"We have I think a moral obligation to provide our scientific community with the tools it needs to save lives," Hoyer said, "and this legislation accomplishes that objective."

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