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President Bush to Veto Stem-Cell Bill

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President Bush to Veto Stem-Cell Bill

Politics

President Bush to Veto Stem-Cell Bill

President Bush to Veto Stem-Cell Bill

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The bill would overturn the president's 2001 limits on federal funding of embryonic-stem-cell research. Bush is expected to nix it. Congress appears to lack the votes for an override, but the debate could have an impact on congressional elections in fall.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

And I'm John Ydstie, in for Steve Inskeep. President Bush is expected to use his veto pen today for the first time since taking office. The target is a bill expanding federal funding for research using stem-cells from human embryos. Congressional Republicans had also hoped to give the president a bill supporting other stem cell research that he could sign at the same time, but the House threw an unexpected snag into the plan.

NPR's Julie Rovner reports.

JULIE ROVNER reporting:

After two days of frequently passionate debate about the origins of life and death, the Senate acted according to script yesterday afternoon. First, it approved on back-to-back 100 to nothing votes two relatively non controversial stem-cell bills. But the key vote was on the third bill, overturning limits on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research imposed by Mr. Bush himself in 2001. The vote on that measure was 63-37, four short of the number needed to override the promised veto.

After the vote, Senate backers of the bill gathered to urge the president to change his mind and sign the bill. Among them was California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who said she's been besieged by patients suffering from diseases for which embryonic stem-cell therapy may hold a treatment or cure.

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): And I can only say, Mr. President, don't make the first veto you have ever made the veto which dashes these hopes.

ROVNER: But that seems highly unlikely. Presidential spokesman Tony Snow said the president's position is not a political one but a moral one, since the research depends on the destruction of human embryos.

Secretary TONY SNOW (White House Press Secretary): The president is not going to get on the slippery slope of taking something that is living and making it dead for the purpose of research.

ROVNER: But politics is playing a major role in this debate. Republican leaders knew President Bush would veto the bill expanding funding of embryonic stem-cell research, putting him at odds with most of the public. So they came up with two other bills he could sign, allowing him to claim to be pro-stem cell research.

Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback is sponsor of one of those bills. It would ban so-called fetus farming, in which embryos are gestated in women or animals before being harvested for their stem cells or other tissues. He says his measure represents an important step even if the practice isn't under serious scientific consideration.

Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican, Kansas): Somebody was saying, well, we weren't going to do it anyway, but that's what they said about human cloning when we started out on this debate; so you're going to ban fetal farming.

ROVNER: But the other supposedly non controversial bill failed to pass when it reached the House last night. It would encourage research into alternative ways to find stem-cells that show as much promise as those derived from human embryos. The attack on the bill was launched by sponsors of the bill facing the veto. Colorado Democrat Diana DeGette insisted she has substantive concerns about the bill, but she also admitted the effort was partly to deprive the president of some political cover.

Representative DIANA DEGETTE (Democrat, Colorado): No one will be fooled by this fig leaf. The tens of millions of people who suffer from diseases like Parkinson's, diabetes, paralysis, cancer, they know that this research holds hope and they know that 72 percent of Americans support this.

ROVNER: This snag is apparently a temporary one. The House, later today, is expected to bring the bill up for a second vote it will likely win. And any attempt to override the promised veto will almost certainly fail. But even if the policy doesn't change, the politics have Republicans on the defensive, says political scientist John Green.

Mr. JOHN GREEN (Senior Fellow, Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life): This is an issue where a large majority of the public seems to favor increased stem-cell research. And yet some of the key constituencies of the Republican Party -conservative evangelicals, conservative Catholics and so forth - of course, very strongly opposed to it. So it does put them at a bit of a bind.

ROVNER: Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life, says Republicans most at risk are those in states with large numbers of pro-research moderate voters.

Mr. GREEN: And for some moderate lawmakers that's a very important constituency. And so it's important for them to be on the right side of this issue. The danger for them, though, is that there are also conservative Republicans in those states who may either stay home in November or maybe even vote against them.

ROVNER: There's at least one thing most Republicans do seem to agree on: They'd like this debate to be over soon so they can go back to trying to divide Democrats.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

YDSTIE: State legislators are also grappling with embryonic stem-cell research. There's an overview at npr.org.

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Stem Cell Research: How the States Stand

Researcher Jonathan Clarke holds up human embryonic stem-cell cultures in La Jolla, Cali. In 2004, Californians approved Proposition 71, which allows the state to sell bonds to fund embryonic stem-cell research. Sandy Huffaker /Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Sandy Huffaker /Getty Images

As the debate heats up in the U.S. Senate this week over funding for stem-cell research, some states have developed their own plans.

Current federal law does not ban embryonic stem-cell research, but it does restrict funding to studies on a limited number of stem cell-lines created before August 2001. The situation varies at the state level. Some states restrict the use of embryonic stem cells from some or all sources, while others actively promote such research.

Here's how the debate is playing out in several states:

California: In the fall of 2004, California voters approved Proposition 71, which authorizes the state to sell $3 billion in bonds to fund embryonic stem-cell research over a 10-year span.

The measure bans reproductive cloning, but specifically permits so-called therapeutic cloning, which scientists prefer to call "somatic cell nuclear transfer." The process involves the transplantation of DNA from an adult cell into an unfertilized egg in order to grow embryonic stem cells.

But the proposition is in legal limbo. Lawsuits have hampered the ability of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the stem-cell institute created by Proposition 71, to support research. The agency has only managed to award about $12 million in training grants thus far.

This April, Superior Court Judge Bonnie Sabraw upheld the constitutionality of the state’s stem-cell program. Appeals by taxpayer groups and those ethically opposed to stem-cell research are expected to take months to play out.

Connecticut: In June 2005, Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell signed legislation that will provide $100 million in funding over a 10-year span for adult and embryonic stem-cell research in the state. The state's stem-cell research program announced its intention to fund as much as $20 million in research projects this year.

Delaware: In June 2005, the Delaware Senate approved a bill that would allow embryonic stem cells to be used for research. Embryos available for research would be limited to those considered "surplus" by fertility clinics. Written consent would be required from the couple that created the embryo. The sale of embryos would be outlawed. The bill also requires the formation of an 11-member panel to set up guidelines to govern research.

The Delaware House put the bill on hold in late June 2005. In January 2006, it voted to pass an amended version of the bill that removed the original language about imposing research guidelines and regulations. The new version must now return to the Senate for consideration.

Florida: Currently, the Florida House and Senate are considering bills that would provide $150 million in state funding for stem-cell research over 10 years. If passed, the bill would allow embryos discarded by in vitro fertilization clinics to be used for research. But the outlook is uncertain. Some legislators in Florida, including Gov. Jeb Bush, have been very vocal about their opposition to stem-cell research.

Petitions are under way to place two different constitutional amendments on the 2008 ballot. One petition is a pro-research ballot measure sponsored by Floridians for Stem Cell Research and Cures. The petition calls for $200 million over a period of 10 years in government-funded grants to conduct embryonic stem-cell research. The other ballot measure opposes government funding for such research; it's sponsored by a mortgage broker in Boca Raton.

Illinois: In July 2005, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich bypassed the Illinois state legislature to create a stem-cell research institute by executive order. Blagojevich announced that the research would come through a line item in the state budget that gave the Public Health Department $10 million to fund research — a surprise move that drew criticism from opponents. In April, the governor allocated the funds in 10 grants to area institutions.

Maryland: In March, the state legislature passed a bill approving state funding for embryonic stem-cell research. The bill creates a state-appointed panel that will authorize and award grants based on annual funding availability in the governor's budget. An independent, scientific peer-review committee will review applications and then forward its opinions to the state panel. Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed the bill into law in April, authorizing $15 million for research in fiscal year 2007.

Missouri: In Missouri, Republican state Sen. Matt Bartle has led a push to ban the use of a cloning procedure, called somatic cell nuclear transfer, that is used in stem-cell research. However, the state's Republican legislators are split on the issue. Anti-abortion lawmakers oppose the process because it involves the destruction of human embryos. But other Republicans, including Gov. Matt Blunt — who considers himself one of the nation's staunchest pro-life governors — support the procedure because of its potential to help treat disease.

Currently, Missouri law forbids the use of state funds for reproductive cloning, but not for cloning for the purpose of stem-cell research. Research groups in Missouri are fighting efforts to restrict stem-cell research. A voter referendum that would allow Missouri patients to receive stem-cell cures allowed under federal law is expected to appear on the November ballot.

Meanwhile, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has invited Missouri stem-cell researchers to bring their work to his state.

New Jersey: California got the headlines, but in fact the nation's first state-supported stem research institute was actually established in New Jersey in mid-2004. However, since then, efforts to make the institute a reality have largely stalled.

A referendum authorizing $230 million for stem-cell research has been delayed until November 2006 at the earliest — a year later than originally scheduled. The delay reflects, in part, fears that the measure would energize conservative voters in a year when the largely Democratic state assembly faces re-election.

In addition to the referendum, a bill that would use up to $250 million in excess cigarette-tax revenue to fund stem-cell research is moving through the legislature.

Ohio: Republican Gov. Bob Taft's "Third Frontier" program, which supports high-tech research in Ohio, including biomedical research, was initiated in 2003. As yet, none of the grants have gone toward embryonic stem-cell research.

Last summer, Taft vetoed a legislative ban on funding stem-cell research with money from the program. However, he has also issued an executive order requiring any stem-cell research funded by Third Frontier to follow the same guidelines used for federal funding. The bond program that would fund the Third Frontier program in the future is slated for the November ballot.

State Restrictions:

Arizona specifically prohibits the use of state funds for embryonic stem-cell research. Louisiana bans research on embryos created through in vitro fertilization. Michigan, Iowa, Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota have banned research on cloned embryos. South Dakota's law goes further, prohibiting stem-cell research on all embryos, regardless of the source.

Sources: NPR staff reports, National Conference of State Legislatures and the Associated Press.

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