Thursday, June 30, 2005

Senate Stem Cell Deal "Close"

In another good Hill article, Jeffery Young reports that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, bowing to pressure from a bipartisan majority of senators, is planning a vote on the Senate's version of the House bill passed in May that would allow federal funding for stem cell research on embryos that would otherwise be destroyed. While Senators Sam Brownback and Tom Coburn have threatened to try and block the legislation, through filibusters or other procedural holds, proponents of the bill say they've got more than enough votes to end debate on the measure and obtain a vote on final passage.

Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR), told Young he expects negotiations between Frist and Minority Leader Harry Reid on a timetable for the vote to conclude sometime this week, and that Frist has "promised" a vote on the bill prior to the August recess. Yet to be resolved, Young says, are questions of what other proposals (including funding for adult stem cell research and/or research on umbillical cord blood cells) will be debated at the same time as the embryonic research proposal.

At a press conference Wednesday, Smith, along with senators Harkin, Hatch, Kennedy, Feinstein and Stabenow announced "a grassroots effort led by the American Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the American Diabetes Association and the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research to promote the legislation across the country during the July 4 recess," Young reports.

The increased pace of negotiations, the article suggests without saying outright, has come about not only through the efforts of senators, but also because several conservative organizations (including Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum and Concerned Women for America) formerly opposing a vote on the stem cell measure now are pushing for a vote, in order to force the president to issue a promised veto of the bill.

What Young does not bring up is the question of where exactly Senator Frist is going to come down on the embryonic stem cell measure. As I've reported before (most recently here, originally here back on May 24), Senator Frist back in 2001 announced that he supported federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells that would otherwise be destroyed. Where he stands on this issue today is entirely unclear, and it will be very interesting indeed to see where he ends up. It's certainly a tough spot for him: oppose the bill and placate the right wing (and the president), but be open to the charge that he changed his position for transparent political gain - or support the bill and face the wrath of those conservatives he's courting for 2008, as well as taking a public stand against the president's stated position.

Will the majority vote in the Senate be large enough that Frist can vote yes on the measure and stay under the radar? Little chance of that if Bush vetoes the bill ... Are the conservative groups now pushing for a vote out to put Frist on record here and embarrass him if he holds his 2001 position?

What's a doctor to do?

1 Comments:

At 12:13 AM, Blogger chris said...

Bigger question: does it matter?

Frist is already politically neutered and damaged goods to the religious right, Schiavo and Bolton have seen to that. And it's not like he'll ever have any credibility with moderates. His presidential aspirations seem pretty much shot, and he's not running for reelection in '06. So I'm not even sure where Frist comes down is a big deal. He'd be a pretty douchey doctor to not do the medical calculus on saving lives vs. surplus embryos, but he's never let medical credibility get in the way of perceived political gain.

Just my .02 USD

 

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