On 29 June, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) announced an agreement that will enable the Senate to consider three stem cell bills. Under the agreement, no amendments will be permitted on any of the measures. The votes would probably take place in July, he said. Each bill would require 60 votes for passage.

The bills are:

  • -HR 810, known as the "Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005" and sometimes known as the Castle/DeGette legislation for its bipartisan cosponsors — Representatives Castle (R-DE) and DeGette (D-CO), passed the House of Representatives in May 2005. This legislation would allow federal funding for research on stem cells obtained from excess embryos (that would otherwise be destroyed) from in vitro fertilization clinics.

  • -S 2754, which would encourage research into methods of obtaining stem cells similar to embryonic stem cells—which can transform into many different body cell types—that do not involve the destruction of embryos. This legislation has been sponsored by conservative Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and the more moderate Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA). Senator Specter is also a sponsor of the Senate version of HR 810.

  • -S 3504 would prohibit work on embryos from what the bill calls "fetal farms," where human embryos may be created specifically for research purposes. Senator Santorum and fellow anti-stem cell crusader Sam Brownback (R-KS) are sponsoring this legislation.

As mentioned previously, HR 810 has already passed the House. Thus, some stem cell research supporters are optimistic that it will be considered in the Senate without amendment. If identical bills pass both chambers, they do not need to pass through the conference committee process. President Bush has promised to veto HR 810 if it passes the Senate and comes to his desk for signature—a power he has yet to use. Some policy watchers, however, note that the mix of legislation to be considered coupled with the 60-vote requirement for passage could result in votes on stem cell research, but no actual progress. In short, the array of legislation could provide adequate political cover for some Senators to both support and oppose stem cell research prior to the November mid-term elections.

 


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