Capitol Hill Debates Embryonic Stem Cells

Sharyl Attkisson is the Capitol Hill Correspondent for CBS News.
With stem cells, it's hard to know exactly what to believe.

Like many Americans, I've done a lot of reading to try to learn the scientific facts. Some material makes it seem as though embryonic stem cells are the miracle cure of the future, that dramatic advancements are right around the corner if only more federal money can be committed to the research. Other material claims that advances are being made at such a quick pace, we will soon no longer have to consider using stem cells from embryos. Both sides seem to agree that any claims of quick cures in the near future are exaggerated. Nobody knows what will or won't ultimately come from embryonic stem cell research. Certainly many scientists are excited about the possibilities. Of course, it could be argued the researchers have a vested interest aside from purely humanitarian. More federal money in the pot leads to profitable lucrative careers for them. Then there are groups that are concerned women will be paid to create and donate embryos, turned into a sort of human parts machine for the sake of "research" that will provide huge profits for pharmaceutical companies.

No matter what, for some in Congress it's a Sophie's choice: should we spend public money experimenting on cells that are the essence of human beings.. that would've become a person if undisturbed? On the other hand, do we ignore the unknown potential of such research that could, in theory, someday, help people we know and love?

The Senate is once again debating the embryonic stem cell question this week. Tomorrow afternoon, they will likely pass a bill expanding federal funding for such research. The House already passed the bill in January. Next, it's onto the President who has promised a veto. That makes it a repeat performance of last year when the Republican-controlled Congress passed the same bill and President Bush vetoed.

So the outstanding question seems to be: will the Democrat-controlled Congress be able to muster enough votes to override the President's veto? It's not likely. It's very close in the Senate. According to our CBS News count, they are just a single vote shy of being able to override the President. But in the House, it's not really even close. There, dozens of members would have to suddenly change their minds to get the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.