Stem cell backers predict success in new Congress

WASHINGTON Tue Jan 9, 2007 4:34pm EST

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca) swears into office the members of the House of Representatives on the first day of the 110th Congress, January 4, 2007. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca) swears into office the members of the House of Representatives on the first day of the 110th Congress, January 4, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Supporters of legislation to expand stem cell research predicted victory on Tuesday, saying they have a tide of public opinion to boost them and perhaps enough votes in Congress to override an expected veto from President George W. Bush.

The House of Representatives is expected to take up the stem-cell bill on Thursday, identical to one passed last July that called for broader federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, which Bush vetoed.

Senate action is expected to follow shortly and Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin told reporters: "I predict it will pass overwhelmingly."

"We should pass the bill again and again and again until we get a president who will sign it," added California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Stem cells are the body's master cells, found throughout the tissue and blood. Researchers hope that stem-cell research could lead to treatments for diseases such as juvenile diabetes and cancer and to perhaps replace damaged organs.

Embryonic stem cells are one of several types of these cells, and considered potentially the most powerful. They are the most controversial source of the cells, and current federal law greatly restricts the use of taxpayer money to pay for experiments using them.

Opponents of embryonic stem cell research, including Bush, say it is unethical to experiment on human embryos, even those never destined to become a baby.

Delaware Republican Rep. Mike Castle said backers may change the bill to win more support from their fellow lawmakers by including provisions such as an oversight body and funding to encourage the adoption of frozen embryos left over at fertility clinics -- currently the main source of human embryonic stem cells.

Backers also said a new approach relying on stem cells from the amniotic fluid that protects unborn fetuses, could complement but not replace existing methods that rely on embryonic cells.

But other supporters said they are not eager to kowtow to a White House that has refused to meet with them.

"I frankly see no need to change the bill with the hopes that the president might accept it," said Colorado Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette. "We have the momentum, we have the votes, we have the support of the public."

Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, who has repeatedly expressed outrage that Bush will not support the expanded use of federal funds for human embryonic stem cell research, said he was "confident" it would pass the Senate with enough votes to override any White House veto.

"There ought to be a million-person march on the Mall ... that can be heard in the living quarters of the White House," he said.

DeGette was less certain the votes in the House could be enough to override a veto.

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