Bush Rejects Stem Cell Compromise

By Mike Allen and Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 26, 2005

A key House Republican promised yesterday to search for a compromise on a bill to expand stem cell research so President Bush will not have to use his first veto on a measure that appears to be popular in polls. But the president reiterated his determination to prevent taxpayer funding for projects that involve destroying embryos.

"There must be a balance between science and ethics," Bush said. "I've made my decision as to how best achieve that balance."

House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.), who has an antiabortion voting record, said he talked with Nancy Reagan about finding "some kind of middle ground." On Tuesday, he joined 49 other House Republicans to pass a bill that would repeal the limits Bush imposed when he announced the first federal funding for stem cell research in 2001.

"We very much want to be able to work with the president and see if there could be some kind of agreement," Dreier said. "I don't want the president to be in a position where he has to veto this. We want to lower the temperature and not be confrontational, so we can figure out a way for the research to go ahead."

Several Senate Republicans said they want to harness momentum from the House vote to expand federal funding for research using embryonic stem cells. The office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said he has not decided how to proceed but will discuss it after the Memorial Day break.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who led opposition to the bill, said "the next step" is to look at what happens to frozen embryos that fertility clinics now discard, which would be the source of stem cells under the House bill.

"At the very least, the couples need to be informed as to what is next and talk about the kinds of decisions that should be made," he said. DeLay said he "can't answer" whether regulation is needed but he would prefer "that doctors that are involved in this process would, on their own, create their own codes of conduct."

Bush reacted bluntly to the House's 238 to 194 vote, which fell far short of the two-thirds needed to override a veto. Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, he said he has made it clear that he opposes "the use of federal moneys that end up destroying life."

"The Congress has made its position clear, and I've made my position clear," Bush said. "I will be vetoing the bill they send to me if it were to pass the United States Senate."

The White House did not embrace the search for a compromise. Spokesman Trent Duffy said Bush has drawn "a very bright line that taxpayer dollars should not be used to destroy life," and said it "would be difficult to blur that line" with a middle-ground proposal.

Rep. Jack Kingston (Ga.), vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, said party leaders accomplished their purpose by allowing the debate. He said he does not think the measure's backers would put much energy into overriding Bush's veto, which he called "trying to make water run uphill."

The bill's sponsors, Reps. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), delivered a gift-wrapped copy of the legislation yesterday to Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and five other senators who will lead the effort to get Frist to bring an identical bill to the floor.

Specter, mostly bald as a result of chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin's disease, said he looks "in the mirror every day, can barely recognize myself."

"Not to have the availability of the best in medical care is simply atrocious," he said. "The bill passed the House by a big margin. And I think when it is publicized further, that margin could grow to override a veto."

DeLay, at his weekly press availability, said that because of the veto threat, the bill "is not going to become law." He said opponents "got about 25 more votes than we thought we were going to get against the bill."

DeLay, who along with his wife, Christine, is a longtime proponent of adoption, said couples visiting a fertility clinic "ought to be informed that, if you take 25 eggs, are you going to implant 25 embryos?"

"If you are not, what do you want to do with the embryos that are left over?" he continued. "If there are embryos left over, do you know that there are people out there that want those embryos and will adopt them and implant them, and babies will result?" Fertility doctors and others in the assisted reproduction field have feared that the Bush administration wants to regulate their field, which has long been saddled with a reputation for being a rogue branch of medicine in need of more ethics oversight.

In 2003, the President's Council on Bioethics began work on a report on the fertility field, a report many predicted would be the first volley in that quest. But the council's report, issued in January 2004 after significant lobbying by fertility specialists, called only for enhanced professional guidelines.

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