WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on Friday threw his support behind House-passed legislation to expand federal financing for human embryonic stem cell research, breaking with President Bush and religious conservatives in a move that could impact his prospects for seeking the White House in 2008.
“It’s not just a matter of faith, it’s a matter of science,” Frist, R-Tenn., said on the floor of the Senate.
Frist’s announcement immediately dented his support among Christian conservatives but won lavish praise from former first lady Nancy Reagan, who said it “has the potential to alleviate so much suffering.” Her husband, the late former President Ronald Reagan, had Alzheimer’s disease.
At the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan said Frist had given Bush advance notice of his announcement. “The president said, ‘You’ve got to vote your conscience,’ ” McClellan said.
“The president’s made his position clear,” the spokesman said when asked if Bush stands by his threat to veto a pending bill that would liberalize federal support for stem cell research. “There is a principle involved here from the president’s standpoint when it comes to issues of life,” McClellan said.
Bush and Frist appeared together at the White House shortly after Frist’s speech as the president signed a bill that allows health care professionals to report information on medical errors without fearing that it will be used against them in lawsuits.
That law has been on a six-year journey that began when the U.S. health-care system was embarrassed by a landmark 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine that showed as many as 98,000 people die each year as a result of medical errors.
But doctors, hospitals and nurses say a significant hurdle to reporting has been fear such information would be used against them – leading to abysmal reporting of errors to the government or nonprofit health groups that collect such data.
From wire reports