Monday, January 08, 2007

A Way Out of the Stem Cell Impasse

When Republicans and Democrats joined forces in a rare display of bipartisanship last July to pass a stem cell research bill, George W. Bush exercised his first and, so far, only veto. Congress was unable to muster the two thirds necessary in each chamber to override it.

Now, however, Democrats rule the Congressional roost. And they are set to reintroduce the same bill hoping they can gather the required number of votes this time to make sure it passes.

This creates a dilemma for Bush and the Republican minority. American voters clearly support stem cell research; otherwise the legislation would never have enjoyed so much GOP support. If Bush vetoes it again, he will have demonstrated that his rhetoric calling for bipartisanship is as empty as the void where his human soul ought to be.

The Shrub may be in a far weaker position politically than he was last year, but he still panders to the religious right; it is unlikely he will be swayed by reason given his track record for ignoring it on Iraq. Yet any veto can only further damage the GOP in the public eye. And even if Bush proves unable to prevent the stem cell bill from becoming law, he will simply issue yet another illegal signing statement voiding it. This will certainly shrink the Republicans' already slim chances of retaining the party's stranglehold on the White House next year.

Democrats may win the public battle over stem cell research, but they still won't be able to win the battle with the White House. And in that regard, despite whatever harm will befall Republicans' already weakened hold on power in 2008, the Shrub still wins.

It looks as if this will be the first of many stalemates between Bush and Democrats, just as he threatened January 3rd in an op-ed published in the conservative Wall Street Journal.

But there may be a way out of this situation, for Bush and for Democrats. Reuters has reported on a new potential source of stem cells found in amniotic fluid.

If Democrats and moderate Republicans can attach an amendment to the stem cell research bill providing funding for the use of amniotic fluid-produced lines, they may be able to strip away the only real reason the religious right has for opposing embryonic stem cell research—that it is immoral because it destroys human zygotes.

Once the influence of the religious right is taken out of the equation, Bush will have a harder time justifying a veto. And polls show the majority of Americans support stem cell research.

Stem cells taken from amniotic fluid are not quite as powerful as embryonic ones. But they are apparently easier to grow than their embryonic counterparts. And unlike embryonic cells, the amniotic variety does not form benign tumors called teratomas.

If Bush is serious about bipartisanship, he will work with Democrats to pass a stem cell research bill providing funding for amniotic-based lines. And Democrats will have bragging rights over passage of one of their First 100 Hours bills.

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