Senate subcommittee would write limited use of federal funds for stem cell research into law
WASHINGTON (AP) – Federally financed but limited stem cell research would be explicitly allowed for the first time, and President Bush would have discretion over how to do it, under a bill approved Wednesday by a Senate subcommittee.
The language, written by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., would let Bush follow through on his proposal to restrict the research to the 64 stem cell lines that he said already exist.
But it would also permit him to go further, as long as the embryos used for the research would otherwise be destroyed and permission for their use has been granted by the people whose fertility treatments created them.
The measure’s fate seemed uncertain as White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush would stand by his earlier decision on stem cell research policy. McClellan said the White House prefers a House version of the measure, which makes no changes in current law.
Specter’s language was included in a measure providing $123.1 billion for federal education, labor and health programs for the new fiscal year. The provision is supported by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee that approved the legislation.
The House plans to vote Thursday on its version of the spending bill.
It was initially unclear what reception the proposal would get from congressional critics of Bush’s policy.
Some lawmakers and others believe Bush opened the door too far for the research, while others felt the president’s plan was too restrictive. But even before last month’s terrorist attacks put the stem cell issue onto Washington’s back burners, neither side sensed that it had the votes to force changes in Bush’s policy.
After weeks of deliberation, Bush announced in August that he would only permit the research on those stem cell lines that he said already existed. Critics said they believed Bush had overstated the number of those lines and said many of them would prove unsuitable for use by scientists.
Embryonic stem cells develop into the body’s various organs. Researchers hope to learn to use them to create healthy cells that can heal ailing hearts, livers and other organs.
Federal law bans the use of tax dollars for research that destroys embryos – which is what removing stem cells from embryos does.
The Clinton administration got around this by saying that as long as private dollars paid for the extraction of the stem cells, then federal money could be used for research on those cells.
Meanwhile, House-Senate bargainers signed off on the first compromise spending bill for fiscal 2002, which began Oct. 1. Leaders hope to finish all 13 spending bills for this year by late October or early November so Congress can go home for the year.
The $19.1 billion measure, which finances the Interior Department and other smaller agencies, is $300 million more than last year and $1 billion above Bush’s request.
It provides increases over last year for land conservation, energy programs and restoration of Florida’s Everglades.
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