Panel Weighs Stem Cell Spending

GENERIC bush stem cell graphic
The White House is expressing initial opposition to Senate legislation that would explicitly allow limited, federally financed stem cell research for the first time.

The Senate Appropriations Committee planned to vote Thursday on a routine spending bill that includes the provision. A subcommittee of that panel approved the overall measure Wednesday.

The language, written by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., would let President Bush follow through on his proposal to restrict the research to the 64 stem cell lines that he said already exist.

It also would permit him to go further, as long as the embryos used for the research otherwise would be destroyed and permission for their use had been granted by the people whose fertility treatments created them.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush would stand by his earlier decision on stem cell research policy. McClellan said the White House prefers a House version of the measure, which makes no change to current law.

The House plans to vote Thursday on its version of the spending bill.

Specter's language was included in a measure providing $123.1 billion for federal education, labor and health programs for the fiscal year that began 10 days ago. The provision is supported by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that approved the legislation.

Some lawmakers and others believe Mr. Bush went too far in allowing the research, while others felt the president's plan was too restrictive. Even before last month's terrorist attacks put the stem cell issue onto Washington's back burners, however, neither side sensed it had the votes to force changes in President Bush's policy.

Click here for a closer look at the stem cell debate.

After weeks of deliberation, Mr. Bush announced in August that he would permit research only on stem cell lines that he said already existed. Critics said they believed the president overstated the number of lines, or cell colonies, and said many of them would prove unsuitable for use by scientists.

Embryonic stem cells develop into the body's various organs. Researchers hope to learn to use them to create healthy cells that can heal ailing hearts, livers and other organs.

Federal law bans the use of tax dollars for research that destroys embryos, which occurs when stem cells are removed from an embryo.

The Clinton administration got around this by saying that as long as private dollars paid for the extraction of the stem cells, federal money could be used for research.

Meanwhile, House-Senate bargainers signed off on the first compromise spending bill for fiscal 2002, which began Oct. 1. Leaders hope to finish all 13 spending bills for this year by late October or early November so Congress can go home for the year.

The $19.1 billion measure, which finanes the Interior Department and other smaller agencies, is $300 million more than last year and $1 billion above Bush's request.

It provides increases over last year for land conservation, energy programs and restoration of Florida's Everglades.

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