Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Veto sparks support for stem cells

Veto sparks support for stem cells
By Jodi Rudoren
Copyright by The The New York Times
Published: July 24, 2006


CHICAGO President George W. Bush's veto of legislation to expand federally funded embryonic stem cell research has had the unintended consequence of drawing state money into the much fought-over field and infusing the debate over the research into election campaigns across the country.

Two governors have seized the political moment to up their ante for stem cell research: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, a Republican who helped Bush win a second term but has long disagreed with him on stem cell research, cited the veto as he lent $150 million from the state's general fund for grants to stem cell scientists. At the same time, Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, a Democrat opposed to most every White House initiative, offered $5 million for similar grants in that state.

Together, the twin moves dwarf the $72 million five states had allocated for the research as well as the $90 million the National Institutes of Health had provided since 2001 for work on a restricted number of stem cell lines.
Several other governors, including at least one Republican, Jodi Rell of Connecticut, raced to denounce the president's first veto in a sign of the political potency of the stem-cell debate.

Within hours of the veto last week, the issue had also sprung to the forefront of critical campaigns around the country, including statehouse, Senate and congressional contests in Florida, Maryland, Missouri, Colorado and Tennessee.
In many cases, Republican moderates mindful of polls showing public support for expanded research sought to distinguish their positions from their president's, anticipating promised attacks from Democrats.

For Schwarzenegger, who is running for re-election in a state dominated by Democrats, his support for stem cell research has helped position him as a centrist, but his Democratic opponent, Phil Angelides, the state treasurer, tried to one-up him by taking credit for the loan.

"In terms of actually getting some resources to the scientists, it turns out like it may be a good week," said Sean Tipton, president of the Washington- based Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, the lead lobbyist for the bill Bush vetoed. "I also think there's symbolic significance: It sends a strong signal to patients that there are some politicians that care about them and want to see them taken care of."

A White House spokesman, Ken Lisaius, said that while Bush's veto was based in a moral opposition to expanding embryonic research, he had no reaction to the Illinois and California governors' moves to skirt it, saying, "We don't comment on state-related matters."

Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life committee dismissed the Illinois and California initiatives as a "public relations gimmick" to divert attention from the ongoing debate over whether scientists should be allowed to create embryos through cloning.

"It's regrettable," he said, "but it's really a matter of they're trying to focus public attention on an issue that is significant but is not really the front line of this battle."

In Florida, stem cell research is a relatively rare point of contention between two Republicans vying to succeed the president's brother, Jeb Bush, as governor. But when one of them, Attorney General Charlie Crist, announced that he "respectfully" disagreed with the veto, his rival Tom Gallagher, the chief financial officer, accused Crist of taking "every opportunity to disagree with the governor and the mainstream of the party."

Meanwhile, a Florida state senator, Rob Smith, a Democratic candidate, vowed, "When I become governor, we are absolutely going to do stem cell research, and we are going to fund it in this state."

In Maryland, Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls responded to the veto with visits to the homes of quadriplegics and Parkinson's patients who could benefit from stem cell research, while the Republican incumbent, Governor Robert Ehrlich Jr., pointed to his support of the research as evidence that he "doesn't govern from the right or the left but the center, where most of us are."

In Colorado, Democratic Representative Diana DeGette, a sponsor of the vetoed legislation, staged a rally to protest the veto Friday when the president visited her district for a $1,000-a- plate luncheon on behalf of Rick O'Donnell, a Republican who supports Bush's position.

Nowhere is the issue hotter than in Missouri, where voters will likely face a ballot initiative supporting stem-cell research in November, and the incumbent Republican senator, Jim Talent, opposes it. His Democratic challenger, Claire McCaskill, the state auditor, highlighted the issue last week when she delivered the Democrats radio address, then convened a conference call with national reporters to spotlight her support.

The California and Illinois initiatives continue the patchwork pattern of public funding for stem-cell research since Bush announced his policy restricting how federal money could be used in the arena in 2001.

More than 100 bills have been considered over the past two years by dozens of state legislatures, with one, South Dakota, banning such research altogether, and five - California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey - allocating state resources to the effort. Others, like Wisconsin, Virginia, Massachusetts and Indiana, have taken steps to support stem-cell science without directly funding research, while Arizona, North Carolina and Virginia have formed groups to study their state's role in the emerging field.

3 Comments:

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