WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid called Wednesday for a swift vote in the Senate on legislation to expand federal support of embryonic stem cell research, and he criticized President Bush for opposing the measure.
Several Senate Republicans later took up the call as Bush renewed his veto threat.
In a new rhetorical exchange a day after the House passed the bill, Reid said it was “wrong politically, morally and scientifically” for Bush to oppose the loosening of restrictions.
Within hours, Bush declared, “There must be a balance between science and ethics and I have made my decision.”
“The use of federal dollars to destroy life is something I simply do not support,” Bush said at the White House.
The president declined to answer a question about what should be done with the many embryos left over from fertility treatments.
“The issue that involves the federal government is whether or not to use taxpayers’ money that would end up destroying that life,” he said.
Several Senate sponsors, including Republicans, forged ahead nonetheless as they accepted the House-passed bill with a photo-friendly red bow affixed to it.
“Get it done,” the House’s Democratic sponsor, Diana DeGette of Colorado, told the senators.
He urged an “up-or-down vote,” meaning one with no amendments allowed.
Meanwhile, the Republican chief sponsor of the Senate bill, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who is being treated for cancer, made a personal appeal for quick action.
“I look in the mirror every day, barely recognize myself,” said Specter, whose hair has been lost to chemotherapy treatment. “And not to have the availability of the best of medical care is simply atrocious.”
Specter said that if Senate Republican leader Bill Frist refuses to allow the bill a vote, “we are not without remedies,” namely procedures by which senators can try to add the bill to other measures being considered on the floor.
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Reid made his comments on the day after the House approved legislation on a vote of 238-194 — far less than the two-thirds support that would be needed to override a veto.
“There’s no chance it will become law,” said Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., one of numerous abortion foes to oppose the House measure. “I don’t know why the Senate would bother taking it up.”
The companion Senate bill, sponsored by Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa and Specter, would lift Bush’s 2001 restrictions on federal funding for new embryonic stem cell research. Senate opponents have threatened a filibuster, but supporters say they have more than the 60 votes needed to overcome it.
“The American people cannot afford to wait any longer for our top scientists to realize the full potential of stem cell research,” said Harkin.
Bush, whose veto would be the first of his presidency, says he opposes the bill because it would open the way for federally funded research that could create life to destroy it.
Proponents say the embryos involved would be discarded anyway.
Opponents question any evidence that embryonic stem cell research will lead to cures.
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., one of the Senate’s staunchest opponents of abortion, said he was “disheartened” by the House’s approval but pleased by Bush’s veto threat.
The medical promise of embryonic stem cell research prompted several House members of both parties who oppose abortion rights to vote yes nonetheless. The moral obligation, they argued, rested on Congress to fund research that could lead to cures.
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