House Passes Stem Cell Bill, Again

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Updated: 11/06 2:00 pm

Jan. 11, 2007 -- The Democratic-led House backed expanding embryonic stem cell research for the second time in a year Thursday, repeating a challenge to President Bush, who opposes the expansion.

The bill was identical to one approved by Congress last May. It removes restrictions set by Bush in 2001 limiting federal funding of stem cell research to approximately 70 cell lines. The president used the first veto of his tenure in office to reject that bill.

Democrats made passing the bill a second time a marquee part of their agenda for the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress, which convened last week. The issue figured heavily in many House and Senate races in November.

The bill drew on bipartisan support to pass 253 to 174, a gain of 15 votes in the House over last year.

Senate Democratic leaders say they will also act in the coming weeks to repeat last year's approval. But the White House said Bush would still reject the bill.

"The president would veto H.R. 3 if it came to his desk," says Tony Fratto, the White House deputy press secretary.

Stem cells are found in human embryos a few days after conception. The cells have the ability to form nearly any cell in the body. Many scientists believe that this characteristic -- known as "pluripotency" -- gives stem cells the potential to treat a range of ailments, including diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and spinal cord injuries.

But opponents, including Bush, say that potential is not worth the cost of destroying human embryos that are in storage following fertilization treatments.

"You have to question the means. Science tells us what we can do. It doesn't tell us what we should do," says Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif.

Alternative Stem Cell Sources

This week, the White House released a statement praising the potential of extracting stem cells from alternative sources -- and thus avoiding destroying embryos. The position was bolstered this week when researchers from Wake Forest University in North Carolina suggested that cells isolated from amniotic fluid of pregnant women had similar pluripotent properties possessed by embryonic stem cells.

The bill's opponents touted the report as evidence that disease cures could still be found without destroying embryos.

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., the bill's chief sponsor, says supporters would be open to a deal with Bush.

"We would be willing to change the bill in consultation with the White House," she says.

"I truly hope we can put together a piece of legislation the president can sign," says Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., the bill's lead GOP sponsor.

Without such a deal, it seems likely that the bill is destined to die. The House remains far short of the 291 votes needed to override a presidential veto.

The White House told members of Congress this week that Bush would soon sign an executive order to provide federal funding for research using alternative stem cell sources.

Thursday's bill could also face changes in the Senate. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said this week he expected opponents to offer a range of amendments, including one promoting alternative stem cell extraction methods and another banning embryo cloning for research.

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