Will embryonic stem cell research be the straw that breaks President Bush's record rubberstamp signature? Will this be his first veto in 5.5 years in office? That's the current line, for those interested in placing a bet. What's less certain is a veto override.
The Senate has passed HR 810, which would amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research, by a 63-37 vote. Almost two months ago, the House passed the bill, 238-194. Both chambers are short of the votes needed to override the promised veto.
The bill counters an executive order signed by President Bush in August 2001. He is threatening a veto -- not for the first time. What's "first" about this threat is that it is falling on deaf ears. Even if he were to sign the bill, no doubt he'd make liberal use of signing statements to attempt to limit it.
Bush opposes a bi-partisan coalition of politicans as well as scientists and regular citizens. High profile supports include Governor Arnold Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) and former first lady Nancy Reagan. In addition, polling data suggest that almost two-thirds of Americans support embryonic stem cell research.
Leading the Senate in this effort, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) said:
"Over the last five years, we've learned that, while it was widely believed 78 embryonic stem-cell lines would be available for federal funding, that has proven not to be the case," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.
"Today, only 22 lines are eligible. Moreover, those lines are starting to become less stable and less replicative than initially thought. While human embryonic stem-cell research is still at a very early stage, the limitations put in place in 2001 will, over time, slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain diseases."
Other Measures Also Passesd
Two other bills are linked to the more controversial House bill; they passed unanimously. One, SB 2754, is sponsored by Pennsylvania Senators Rick Santorum and Alen Spector. It encourages scientists to research how to "derive human pluripotent stem cell lines using techniques that do not knowingly harm embryos."
The other, SB 3504, is sponsored by Santorum and Sam Brownback (R-KS). Anecdotally known as a prohibition on fetal farming, the bill "prohibit[s] the solicitation or acceptance of tissue from fetuses gestated for research purposes."
Both are expected to be signed into law.
Veto Record To End?
In March, President Bush set a 200-year record, becoming the most veto-less president since the early 1900s. The last President to exercise no veto was James Garfield, who held office only six months before being shot. Neither Presidents Adams nor Jefferson exercised a veto; Garfield is the most recent president not to veto a measure. FDR vetoed 635 bills; only nine were overturned. Bush's father vetoed 44; one was overturned.