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Stem Cell Battle Part of DeGette's Diabetes Crusade

"Living with someone every day who has one of these diseases, you start to understand when people say we have to find cures," says Rep. Diana DeGette, who has made a bill to ease restrictions on stem cell research a priority. (By Ed Andrieski -- Associated Press)

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By Lois Romano
Thursday, June 7, 2007

When Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) was starting her second term in Congress in 1999 she was jolted with news that has since come to define her career: Her 4-year-old daughter, Francesca, received a diagnosis of diabetes.

"She had to get four or five shots a day," DeGette says. "Living with someone every day who has one of these diseases, you start to understand when people say we have to find cures. It's not an abstract concept. It's an everyday issue for people like me."

Since then, DeGette has become an outspoken advocate for easing restrictions on federally funded embryonic stem cell research. Today she will be on the House floor, managing her bill, which is scheduled for a vote and which Democrats expect will pass. President Bush has vowed to veto the measure.

DeGette has tried to educate her colleagues about the research, campaigned for pro-stem-cell candidates last fall, is co-chair of the Congressional Diabetes Caucus and works closely with national diabetes organizations. "Diabetes is one of the diseases embryo stem cell research showed early promise for," she says. Public opinion polls show strong support for the research, and DeGette believes it will be an issue in the 2008 elections if the president does not sign the bill or relax restrictions by executive order.

"If a candidate says, 'I support stem cells and my opponent does not,' it immediately classifies your opponents as an extremist," she contends.

She said she picked up 16 votes with the Democratic takeover but is still 30 shy of being able to override a veto. Bush and religious conservatives object to the research on moral grounds, particularly if it involves the destruction of human embryos. In 2001, he agreed to fund research for existing lines of embryonic cells -- but not for new lines of cells.

"The way we look at this is that any great idea takes time," she says. "And since I started working on this issue in the late '90s, public opinion has coalesced in favor of it. We think people who vote on the wrong side of this are voting against science and health."

Felons Get Their Pensions

So we face another indicted of member of Congress who, if convicted, will still get his government pension. The Senate and House have passed legislation to deny federal pensions to lawmakers convicted of felonies -- but it is hung up in the lobbying reform bill, which hasn't yet gone to conference.

While Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) was indicted on 16 counts of bribery and fraud this week, the charges come safely before the bills could become law, so he will receive his pension no matter how the case comes out.

Brendan Daly, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), explained: "Under the Constitution, a statute cannot impose a punishment on a person for conduct that occurred before the law was passed. Therefore, the House determined that bill could not be applied retroactively."

This also means that our recently convicted felons -- former congressmen Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) and Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) come to mind -- are receiving their benefits in the joint.

In any case, the proposed measures would deny lawmakers only those funds that were matched by the federal government -- not the legislators' own contributions.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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