Stem-cell research pushed to top of Congress’ agenda |

Stem-cell research pushed to top of Congress’ agenda

Michael Riley
The Denver Post

WASHINGTON – Despite a packed legislative calendar, quashing a recent court ruling that bans federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research has suddenly risen to the top of Congress’ pre-election to-do list.

Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver said Democratic leaders in the House are looking favorably on the idea of moving a bill quickly to the floor in time for a vote before Congress recesses Oct. 8.

The Senate appears poised to act as well – the issue suddenly propelled by the confluence of a District of Columbia district court ruling and Democrats’ desire to frame the election as a stark contrast between themselves and Republican rivals.

“The fact that people are running against these hard-right Tea Party

candidates really will help them because the vast majority of Americans are for stem-cell research,” said DeGette, a longtime champion of the research who has seen legislation she’s written on the issue pass twice only to be vetoed by then-President George W. Bush.

But it is the recent ruling by a federal judge in Washington, D.C., that has turned the issue into what DeGette called an “emergency situation,” potentially endangering tens of millions of dollars in new research approved since President Barack Obama reversed a Bush-era prohibition last year.

DeGette said she and her allies will push to quickly adopt the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which she introduced again in March and would effectively codify the executive order the judge overturned.

Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., introduced a similar bill in the Senate on Monday, and aides said a vote there was increasingly likely. That could potentially send legislation to the president’s desk even as the U.S. Court of Appeals – which temporarily stayed the lower court’s ruling – mulls over the issue.

Both bills address concerns by Judge Royce Lambert that Obama’s executive order violated a 1996 congressional amendment known as

Dickey-Wicker. The ruling, which startled researchers throughout the country, put in jeopardy at least $78 million in National Institutes of Health funding that had recently been approved.

The Dickey-Wicker amendment bans use of federal funds for research in which human embryos are destroyed or damaged, but the Justice Department argued that doesn’t apply to current research projects using embryos from private fertilization clinics that would otherwise be discarded.

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