MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Today, the Senate gave strong approval to a measure that would expand Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The House has already approved the measure and now the stage is set for President Bush to issue his first veto in five and half years in office. The bill did pass in the Senate, but not by a veto-proof margin. NPR's Brian Naylor reports on the debate in the Senate today.
BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:
The stem cell debate was personal and political. Senators cited their own and their family's medical histories, pointing to diseases that could perhaps be cured through research using embryonic stem cells. Oregon Republican Gordon Smith referred to the death of several family members - including his cousin, former Congressman Morris Udall from Parkinson's disease - as he issued a plea to President Bush.
Senator GORDON SMITH (Republican, Oregon): We will all die Mr. president, but no one should have to died as they died. So I appeal to my friend, President Bush, in the name of my Udall ancestry, to please do not veto this bill.
NAYLOR: Smith was one of a number of lawmakers, including Senate majority leader Bill Frist, who usually oppose abortion rights to vote for the stem cell bill. Others, including Republican Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania remained adamant that destroying embryos for research was destroying human life.
Senator RICK SANTORUM (Republican, Pennsylvania): Every life, whether it's in a suspended state in an IVF clinic, or whether it's standing on the floor of the United States Senate attempting to defend and protect those suspended lives, every life has meaning. Every life deserves protection.
NAYLOR: Backers of the bill pointed out the vast majority of embryos produced at IVF, or in vitro fertilization clinics, would ultimately be destroyed. Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter argued future generations would see opposition to embryonic stem cell research as archaic.
Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): Columbus was discouraged from seeking America because the world was flat, that it was impossible to find a new continent. A century from now, people will look back in amazement that we could even have this debate where the issues are so clear-cut.
NAYLOR: The Senate approved three separate bills today. The first banned so-called fetal farming, that is growing embryos specifically for stem cell research. A second encourages stem cell research that doesn't destroy embryos. Both were adopted unanimously and are likely to be signed by the president.
The third was more problematic. It ends President Bush's prohibition on federal funding to develop new embryonic stem cell lines and will prompt the president's veto. White House Spokesman Tony Snow said it's a black and white issue.
Secretary TONY SNOW (White House Press Secretary): The president believes strongly that for the purpose of research it's inappropriate for the federal government to finance that many people consider murder. He's one of them.
NAYLOR: Congress could vote whether to override the veto as soon as tomorrow. House majority leader John Boehner predicted the veto would be sustained. Either way, Democrats made it clear they consider the stem cell debate a wedge issue they can use on Republican's in this fall's Congressional elections. Senator Charles Schumer of New York heads the Democrat's Senate Campaign Committee. Senator CHARLES SCHUMER: (Democrat, New York) This will be one of the largest issues that face us in November and it should. That's what democracy is all about. And all of those, including the president, who have tried to hide their actions with false promises or bills that accomplish nothing will be held accountable.
NAYLOR: But Republicans appear unconcerned about the political fallout, believing stem cells are unlikely to be much of an issue in most races. The big exception is expected to be the Missouri Senate race where republican incumbent Jim Talent, an opponent of embryonic stem cell research, faces a tough challenge from democrat Claire McCaskill. A state ballot issue on stem cells there could effect the outcome of the close race.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.
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