Democrats Push Bills Despite Veto Promise

After swearing they were going to cooperate with President Bush's legislation and pass spending bills Democrats seem to have changed their mind. One sticky issue is the insertion of "pro-choice" language into a foreign aid bill by House Democrats.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Democrats on Capitol Hill just last week seemed eager to cooperate with President Bush to get spending bills passed, even if it meant angering some of their traditional allies. But that strategy seems to be changing. Yesterday lawmakers added language to two bills certain to draw a presidential veto.

NPR's Julie Rovner has this story.

JULIE ROVNER: The House spent yesterday debating the $34 billion foreign aid bill. As part of the bill, Democratic sponsors decided to loosen a long-standing restriction on foreign aid funding. Currently international family planning groups that use any of their own money to perform, counsel or lobby on abortion can't get funds from the U.S.

Under the Democrats' bill, the ban on cash would remain in place. But international family planning groups could receive U.S.-provided shipments of contraceptives. Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan argued that's keeping within the spirit of the international family planning program.

Representative TIM RYAN (Democrat, Ohio): If you want to reduce abortions, we need to provide the prevention. This is not money. This is not funds. We're going to ship the product and then those organizations will be able to take the money they save and buy more contraceptives.

ROVNER: But abortion opponents said the language wasn't really a compromise. Joe Pitts is a Republican from Pennsylvania.

Representative JOE PITTS (Republican, Pennsylvania): Money is fungible. Every U.S. tax dollar or commodity that goes to an abortion provider frees up funds to pay for more abortions and more pro-abortion lobbying.

ROVNER: Still, despite a veto threat from the White House, the House opted to keep the contraceptive language in the bill. Meanwhile, over in the Senate the subject was stem cells. A day after President Bush vetoed a freestanding bill to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, senators struck back.

They tacked a stem cell provision onto the bill that funds the entire Department of Health and Human Services. Now this is a bill already headed for a veto because it spends more than the president asked for. As the Appropriations Committee considered the bill, chairman Robert Byrd of West Virginia all but dared the president to use his veto pen.

Senator ROBERT BYRD (Democrat, West Virginia): The president has every right to threaten to veto of our bill. He has the right to call our spending decisions irresponsible, and we have every right to think otherwise.

ROVNER: So bill sponsor Tom Harkin of Iowa figured he didn't have much to lose by adding stem cell language. It's not the bill the president just vetoed; instead it builds on what's currently allowed by changing the president's current cutoff date for eligible cell lines from August 9, 2001. Harkin says changing cutoff to June 15, 2007 would expand the pool of cell lines available to researchers from about 20 to roughly 400.

Senator TOM HARKIN (Democrat, Iowa): Those stem cell lines have already been derived, not one of them done with a penny of federal money.

ROVNER: But Republicans like Larry Craig of Idaho expressed doubts about that strategy.

Senator LARRY CRAIG (Republican, Idaho): If the world begins to recognize that we will progressively advance the date, then we will start developing, I would suspect, surplus embryos for the purpose of science.

ROVNER: The bill was expected to come to the Senate floor in July. Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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