Senate OKs Stem Cell Bill; Veto Expected

Times Staff Writer

President Bush, who has signed every bill Congress has sent him since he took office, is poised to exercise his first veto after the Senate approved a measure Tuesday to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

The legislation won strong support in the Senate, passing 63 to 37. It cleared the House last year, 238 to 194. But Bush has joined with social conservatives -- a bloc that includes some of his staunchest political allies -- in opposing the bill as immoral.

A Bush veto, expected as early as today, would thwart the measure from becoming law because neither chamber is expected to muster the two-thirds margin required to override his opposition.

Still, the bill's proponents saw Congress' action as a legislative landmark that could pave the way for substantial federal backing for a controversial procedure at the cutting edge of medical science.

"In the future, in all likelihood, we will see increased federal funding of embryonic stem cell research," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who made a rare break with the White House to support the legislation.

The measure's backers pledged to keep the debate alive by spotlighting the topic in several of this year's House and Senate campaigns.

"This issue isn't going away," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, who voted for the bill, as did California's other Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein.

At a time of polarization on Capitol Hill, support for the legislation offered a rare display of bipartisanship -- 19 Republicans joined 43 Democrats and one independent in voting to overturn restrictions that Bush placed five years ago on federally funded embryonic stem cell research.

Opposing the bill were 36 Republicans and one Democrat -- Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

The president and his allies, mostly in the antiabortion movement, oppose the research because it requires the destruction of human embryos to extract the stem cells.

"The president believes strongly that for the purpose of research, it's inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder," White House spokesman Tony Snow said Tuesday. "He's one of them."

But research backers, including some abortion opponents, say the research is "pro-life" because scientists think it could help develop cures and treatments for debilitating diseases.

Some Bush allies saw it as an appropriate emblem of the president's style of leadership that he probably will exercise his first veto on what he considers a matter of moral principle, even though polls generally show that a sizable majority of the public favors embryonic stem cell research.

"He is in office to do the right thing, even if doing the right thing makes him temporarily unpopular," said Michael Franc, a conservative analyst at the Heritage Foundation think tank.

But critics framed the prospective veto as a testament to how wedded Bush is to the agenda of religious conservatives who are influential in the GOP.

"Congress has taken the politics out of the debate on stem cell research; it's time the White House does too," said Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).

Some Republicans worry that the president's opposition to the research will alienate swing voters -- and perhaps cast the GOP as hostile to scientific programs.

At the urging of Republicans eager to show their backing for research they view as ethical, the Senate on Tuesday passed a bill reiterating support for efforts to create stem cells without destroying embryos. It also passed another bill to ban the creation of a fetus solely for the purpose of using its body parts for research -- a procedure that even the bill's sponsors say has not been practiced.

The House had been expected to pass both Tuesday night under expedited procedures that require approval by a two-thirds majority so Bush could sign both today at the same time he casts his veto.

But the bill backing alternative stem cell research fell a few votes short of passing by the two-thirds requirement. GOP leaders may bring the bill back later this week for approval under routine procedures requiring a simple majority.

The bill to ban so-called fetal farming passed unanimously.

In more than five years as president, Bush as of Monday had signed 1,129 bills. He has threatened to veto 141. Snow said Bush had not followed through on those threats because Congress "has come back and given him what he's wanted."

The dispute over stem cell research spurred the first nationally televised speech of Bush's presidency, in August 2001, when he unveiled his policy allowing federal funding only for research on stem cell lines in existence at the time.

Scientists have pushed for lifting that restriction, in part because the stem cell lines available under Bush's edict have proved more limited than anticipated.

Several states have tried to circumvent the federal restrictions by passing their own funding for embryonic stem cell research. California voters in 2004 passed Proposition 71, which allocated $3 billion for research -- although the money has since been tied up in legal challenges.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday was among those who called on Bush to reverse his position and sign the bill expanding federal funding.

"I urge you not to make the first veto of your presidency one that turns America backwards on the path of scientific progress and limits the promise of medical miracles for generations to come," Schwarzenegger wrote in a letter.

The bill passed by the Senate would allow federal funding for research on stem cells derived from frozen embryos stored at fertility clinics -- but only if they were scheduled for destruction.

Even with that limitation, critics of the research said it would amount to an unethical destruction of life.

"This is about the value of human life," said Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a leading abortion critic. "Every life, whether it is in a suspended state in [a fertility] clinic or is standing on the floor of the U.S. Senate ... every life has meaning."

Critics of the research argue that its aims can be achieved by methods that do not destroy embryos, such as extracting stem cells from adults or umbilical cord blood. Such stem cells have been used to develop cures and treatments, mostly for bloodrelated disorders.

Advocates of the legislation say stem cells drawn from embryos are far more versatile and medically promising.

Frist, a former surgeon contemplating a run for the presidency in 2008, drew the ire of social conservatives he has been trying to woo when he announced last year his support for the research bill -- and his intention to schedule a vote on it.

Among other potential GOP presidential contenders in the Senate, John McCain of Arizona also voted for the bill, while George Allen of Virginia, Sam Brownback of Kansas and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska voted against it.

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The makings of a showdown

The 63-37 roll call by which the Senate voted to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. On this vote, a "yes" vote was a vote to pass the funding expansion and a "no" vote was a vote to defeat it. President Bush is expected to veto the measure.

Democrats voting yes:

Lincoln (Ark.); Pryor (Ark.); Boxer (Calif.); Feinstein (Calif.); Salazar (Colo.); Dodd (Conn.); Lieberman (Conn.); Biden (Del.); Carper (Del.); Nelson (Fla.); Akaka (Hawaii); Inouye (Hawaii); Durbin (Ill.); Obama (Ill.); Bayh (Ind.); Harkin (Iowa); Landrieu (La.); Mikulski (Md.); Sarbanes (Md.); Kennedy (Mass.); Kerry (Mass.); Levin (Mich.); Stabenow (Mich.); Dayton (Minn.); Baucus (Mont.); Reid (Nev.); Lautenberg (N.J.); Menendez (N.J.); Bingaman (N.M); Clinton (N.Y.); Schumer (N.Y.); Conrad (N.D.); Dorgan (N.D.); Wyden (Ore.); Reed (R.I.); Johnson (S.D.); Leahy (Vt.); Cantwell (Wash.); Murray (Wash.); Byrd (W.Va.); Rockefeller (W.Va.); Feingold (Wis.); Kohl (Wis.)

Republicans voting yes:

Murkowski (Alaska); Stevens (Alaska); McCain (Ariz.); Lugar (Ind.); Collins (Maine); Snowe (Maine); Cochran (Miss.); Lott (Miss.); Gregg (N.H.); Burr (N.C.); Smith (Ore.); Specter (Pa.); Chafee (R.I.); Alexander (Tenn.); Frist (Tenn.); Hutchison (Texas); Bennett (Utah); Hatch (Utah); Warner (Va.)

Independents voting yes:

Jeffords (Vt.)

Republicans voting no:

Sessions (Ala.); Shelby (Ala.); Kyl (Ariz.); Allard (Colo.); Martinez (Fla.); Chambliss (Ga.); Isakson (Ga.); Craig (Idaho); Crapo (Idaho); Grassley (Iowa); Brownback (Kan.); Roberts (Kan.); Bunning (Ky.); McConnell (Ky.); Vitter (La.); Coleman (Minn.); Bond (Mo.); Talent (Mo.); Burns (Mont.); Hagel (Neb.); Ensign (Nev.); Sununu (N.H.); Domenici (N.M.); Dole (N.C.); DeWine (Ohio); Voinovich (Ohio); Coburn (Okla.); Inhofe (Okla.); Santorum (Pa.); DeMint (S.C.); Graham (S.C.); Thune (S.D.); Cornyn (Texas); Allen (Va.); Enzi (Wyo.); Thomas (Wyo.)

Democrats voting no:

Nelson (Neb.)

Presidential veto power

* When Congress passes a bill and sends it to the president, he can sign it, not sign it, or block its enactment with a veto. If the president doesn't veto or sign a bill within 10 days, it becomes law without his signature.

* If a president vetoes a bill, Congress can override and enact it into law with two-thirds majority votes in both the House and Senate.

* The president can also prevent a bill from becoming law if Congress adjourns within 10 days of sending it to him. This is called a pocket veto, and the president exercises it simply by not signing the bill.

* President Bush's three immediate predecessors made much use of vetoes. President Reagan used the veto 78 times during his eight years in office; Congress overrode his vetoes nine times. President George H.W. Bush vetoed 44 bills during his four years in office; one was overridden. President Clinton vetoed 38 bills in his eight years in office; two of them were overridden.

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Source: Associated Press

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