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Bush vetos embryo stem cell bill

L.A. Times-Washington Post News Service

WASHINGTON – President Bush, swiftly defying a bipartisan majority in Congress and a strong current in public opinion, exercised the first veto of his presidency on Wednesday by blocking an expansion of federal support for embryonic stem cell research that he considers immoral.Within hours of Bush’s announcement, a House effort to override the veto fell 51 votes short of the required two-thirds majority, effectively killing the bill for the rest of the year. The vote was 235 for the override and 193 opposed, with 51 Republicans siding against the president.Bush said the veto was not a setback for science but a victory of conscience, as taxpayers should not pay for research that destroys human embryos – even in the service of obtaining stem cells from those embryos to develop potential cures for disease.”This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others,” Bush said to a crowd of supporters in the White House East Room, including many children born of fertility-clinic embryos of the sort that would be used for research under the bill. “It crosses a moral boundary that our society needs to respect, so I vetoed it.”The bill Bush vetoed would have eased restrictions that he imposed in 2001 on federally funded embryonic stem cell research. Supporters of the loosened rules decried the veto, saying it had dashed the hopes of American scientists, patients and their families.”Vetoing this bill is one of the greatest mistakes of his presidency,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.The veto, and Congress’ failure to override it, were landmark moments in Bush’s presidency that testified to the extent and limits of his sway halfway through his second term. Rampant Republican defections on the issue underscored the weakening hold Bush has on his party.But even a president in his final years holds veto power, which allowed Bush with a stroke of a pen to leave an enormous mark on American science and research ethics, shaping the flow of federal dollars that are a cornerstone of U.S. science.The most remarkable thing about Bush’s decision may not be that he vetoed this particular bill, as he had repeatedly threatened to do. More significant may be that it took so long in his presidency before he vetoed anything.Every president since James A. Garfield has issued at least one veto, and he was shot dead after less than a year in office, in 1881. Thomas Jefferson was the only two-term president to issue no vetoes.Many Republicans say Bush’s extraordinarily long veto-free period is a tribute to how far the Republican-controlled Congress has gone to accommodate what Bush wanted -authorizing the war in Iraq, giving him almost every tax cut he wanted, meeting his overall budget targets.But many conservatives, frustrated by the run-up in federal spending in recent years, say it is also a tribute to how unwilling Bush has been to confront Congress on its big-spending ways.Bush’s uncompromising defense of his 2001 stem cell policy, despite changes in the scientific and political landscape over the last five years, is in keeping with a presidential leadership style that his admirers call principled and his detractors call bullheaded. “It reaffirms a dimension of his political self-definition as a strong leader who does what he says he’ll do and stick with his guns,” said Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University in Texas and longtime Bush watcher.The veto came with remarkable alacrity, less than 24 hours after the Senate cleared the bill with a bipartisan 63-37 vote. The speedy action, and the quick House vote that followed, were signs of Republican eagerness to get the divisive issue off center-stage.Even as he vetoed the bill, Bush also signed a bill passed unanimously by the House and Senate to address the fears of some critics that scientists are aiming to create “fetal farms,” in which human fetuses would be grown for their organs and tissues. That bill would make it illegal to perform experiments on fetuses grown in wombs for research purposes. Proponents of the bill acknowledged that it was pre-emptive, because the procedure is not known to have been practiced on human fetuses.Controversy has centered on a kind of stem cell research that is progressing rapidly around the world, but only narrowly funded by the U.S. government. It entails destroying human embryos to obtain the stem cells inside, which are thought to be able to develop into any type of cell in the body. Many scientists believe this research may lead to new medical insights and possibly to cures for diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. That hope has prompted many scientists and patients’ advocates to call for looser limits on federal funding for the research.(Begin optional trim)The issue has been percolating throughout Bush’s presidency, although Bush was virtually silent on it during his 2000 campaign. In August, 2001, in the first televised speech of his presidency, Bush announced that scientists for the first time could use federal funds for embryonic stem cell research – but only on cells that had already been drawn from embryos before his speech. Bush said that limitation was aimed at making sure federal funding did not prompt scientists to destroy additional human embryos to obtain stem cells.At the time, Bush’s position was seen as a skillful compromise between social conservatives in his party who wanted no funding for embryonic stem cell research, and scientists and patient’s advocates who wanted a more robust program.But since then, pressure has mounted on Bush and Congress to liberalize the policy. The cell lines thought to be eligible for research under Bush’s policy turned out to be fewer and less productive than was initially believed.(End optional trim)Increasingly, the research has gained acceptance from anti-abortion Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., as they abandoned the view that embryonic stem cell research is tantamount to abortion.The bill sent to Bush would expand his policy by allowing federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells no matter what date they were created. The cells would have to come from frozen embryos stored at fertility clinics that were no longer needed by fertility patients and were scheduled for destruction.Even with that limitation, Bush argued that the bill would upset the balance he tried to strike in 2001 “between the needs of science and the demands of conscience.”Bush announced his veto, to a standing ovation, at an event in the East Room of the White House, a chamber reserved for some of the president’s most important events.Bush noted that his veto would not prohibit privately funded research on embryonic stem cells, but that taxpayers should not finance procedures that many consider murder.As the House opened its debate on whether to override the veto, DeGette challenged that assertion, noting that the bill would allow research only on embryos that were already slated to be destroyed.House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, echoed the president’s words when he responded: “There is really no such thing as a `spare embryo.’ Every man and woman in this chamber began life as an embryo identical to those destroyed through the process known as embryonic stem cell research.”But House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said the veto eventually be “looked upon as a momentary victory of ideology over medical research and progress.”With the House expected to sustain Bush’s veto, there will be no override vote in the Senate.


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