WASHINGTON – President Bush, who has signed every bill Congress has sent him since he took office, is poised to exercise his first veto after the Senate on Tuesday approved a measure to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
The legislation won strong support in the Senate, passing 63-37. It easily cleared the House last year, 238-194. But Bush has joined with social conservatives – a bloc that includes some of his staunchest political allies – in opposing the bill as immoral.
A Bush veto, which could come as early as today, would thwart the measure from becoming law because neither chamber is expected to muster the two-thirds margin required to override his opposition.
Still, the bill’s proponents saw Congress’ action as a legislative landmark that could pave the way for substantial federal backing for a controversial procedure at the cutting edge of medical science.
“In the future, in all likelihood, we will see increased federal funding of embryonic stem cell research,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who made a rare break with the White House to support the legislation.
The measure’s proponents also pledged to keep the debate alive by spotlighting the topic in several of this year’s House and Senate campaigns.
“This issue isn’t going away,”’ said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who voted for the bill.
At a time of bitter polarization on Capitol Hill, support for the legislation offered a rare display of bipartisanship – 19 Republicans joined 43 Democrats and one independent in voting to overturn restrictions that Bush placed five years ago on embryonic stem cell research assisted by federal money.
Opposing the bill were 36 Republicans and one Democrat – Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
The president and his allies, mostly in the anti-abortion movement, oppose the research because it requires the destruction of human embryos to extract the stem cells.
But research backers – who include some abortion opponents – say the experimentation is “pro-life” because scientists believe it could help develop cures and treatments for debilitating diseases.
Some Bush allies saw it as an appropriate emblem of the president’s style of leadership that he likely will exercise his first veto on what he considers a matter of moral principle, even though polls generally show that a sizable majority of the public favor embryonic stem cell research.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., was more critical of Bush.
Murray called it “amazing” that Bush might issue his first veto in nearly six years in office on a bill “offering basic hope and opportunity to so many Americans. The president is wrong on this issue, and his threatened veto is wrong.”
At the urging of Republicans eager to show their backing for research they view as ethical, the Senate on Tuesday passed a bill reiterating support for efforts to create stem cells without destroying embryos. It also passed another bill to ban the creation of a fetus solely for the purpose of using its body parts for research – a procedure that even the bill’s sponsors say has not been practiced.
The House had been expected to pass both measures.
The bill to ban so-called “fetal farming” passed unanimously.