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Stem Cell Debate Blurs Party Lines

As for the president's policy on federal funding for research involving stem cells taken from human embryos, the debate today went far beyond the issue of how much to spend. CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer is tracking that developing story.

Two days into a fall session where Democrats and the White House are already at odds on dozens of issues, Congress waded into the scariest territory yet--science.

"Nothing is more frightening to me than Congress trying to be a scientist," says Senator Christopher Dodd (Democrat, Connecticut).

At issue is what to do about stem cell research--the tiny cells that scientists say could provide miracle cures for everything from Parkinson's disease to diabetes.

The problem is that many religious conservatives oppose such research, so the president limited federally backed research only to cells already created in previous experiments. But will that be enough?

Senator Edward Kennedy (Democrat, Massachusetts) says, "President bush has opened the door to government funding for this important area of health research . . . The question before Congress is whether the door is open far enough."

No, said a Rhode Island congressman who believes the cells may be used someday to repair the kind of spinal injury that left him a quadriplegic.

"I am frustrated by just how little room it leaves for medical advancement," says Representative Jim Langevin (Democrat, Rhode Island).

The administration point man admitted there won't be as many cells available for research as the White House first said but argued that there are plenty to get started.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson says, "We need to move beyond the back and forth over the numbers and do the actual research and the science."

This controversy does not break on party lines. The president's main critic is a leading Republican who says the president's plan simply doesn't make enough cell lines available.

Senator Arlen Specter (Republican, Pennsylvania) says, "It has become apparent that many of the lines cited are not really viable or robust or usable."

Specter and the scientific community are pushing for a much more aggressive federal effort on all this, but with the White House and some Republicans so sensitive to opposition from the religious right, it's just not clear where Congress will finally come down on this.

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