As promised, President George W. Bush today vetoed a bill that would have expanded federal policy on research using human embryonic stem cells (ScienceNOW, 18 July). Acting less than 24 hours after the Senate passed the legislation (H.R. 810) by a vote of 63 to 37, the president reiterated that the measure "crosses a moral boundary" by sanctioning the destruction of "innocent human life." At the same time, he signed into law a ban on the "farming" of human fetuses for research that was passed unanimously yesterday by both the Senate and House.
Bush expressed disappointment at the failure of a third bill that was supposed to be part of the legislative package. That measure, which encourages research on alternatives to the destruction of early embryos for procuring stem cells, was approved last night in a 273 to 154 vote by the House that fell 12 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for such emergency measures. The National Institutes of Health already supports such research. Although it was unanimously passed by the Senate, many stem cell proponents in the House worked to defeat it so that Bush would be denied the political "cover" it would provide for his veto of H.R. 810.
A House vote on overriding the President's action was scheduled promptly following the veto, but it was expected to fall far short of the two-thirds needed to override a veto. Last summer, House members passed the bill by a margin of 238 to 194. Such a defeat would kill the measure for the current Congress, which runs until the end of the year.
Stem cell supporters in Congress opted to look at the bright side today. At a press conference of moderate House Republicans, Delaware Representative Mike Castle, the original sponsor of H.R. 810, promised to continue working for its adoption. "I am energized by all this," he said. "I am not quieted by it." Advocates are likely now to focus on the November congressional elections in hopes of making stem cells a potent political issue for voters. Castle also promised to return next year with another version of H.R. 810. "This is not the end," he said.