As prospects for a Senate vote this month on stem cell legislation have dimmed, Senator Arlen Specter (R–PA) yesterday threatened to add a stem cell amendment to the health appropriations bill. A spokesman in Specter's office says the senator--who is chairman of the subcommittee overseeing funds for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)--sees an amendment as a fall-back option if no stem cell vote is held before the fall.
At this point it seems highly unlikely that the Senate will hold a vote this summer on HR 810 (S. 471), the bill the House passed in May to expand the number of lines available to federally funded researchers. Majority leader Bill Frist (R–TN) promised to schedule a vote before the August congressional recess, but Republicans have been unable to agree on procedures, according to Capitol Hill staffers.
A complicated flurry of legislative proposals has resulted. Senators uncomfortable with research involving the destruction of early human embryos have been discussing other measures in attempts to siphon off support from the bill while still demonstrating support for stem cell research.
There are now at least five bills that could be presented to senators along with S. 471. Chief among them is a bill that would give the National Institutes of Health more money to do research on “alternative” ways of getting pluripotent (embryonic stem–cell–like) cells. While no Senate version exists yet, it would presumably mirror HR 3144, introduced last month in the House by Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD).
Confused? You're not alone. “I have grave concerns that the issues can be ... crystallized and understood,” Specter said yesterday. Other supporters of stem cell research agree with him. This is “now a crazy litany of bills,” all designed to “provide cover” for members who don't want to support S. 471 but who want to be seen supportive of stem cell research, says Kevin Wilson of the American Society for Cell Biology. If S. 471 does pass, it will probably be vetoed as the President has promised, notes Wilson--while “a lot of antiresearch stuff would be signed into law.”
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