House Speaker: No Vote for Embryonic Stem Cell Research Funding Bill

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 25, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

House Speaker: No Vote for Embryonic Stem Cell Research Funding Bill

by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 25, 2004

Washington, DC ( — A bill designed to overturn President Bush’s limitations on taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research won’t get an up or down vote in the House, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert says.

A spokesman for the Illinois Republican told the Boston Globe that sponsors of the legislation, introduced this week, would have to find some other way to advance their bill.

"I don’t think that it will come up as a free-standing bill. It divides our caucus. We’re into unity, not division," John Feehery, a spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, told the Globe.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Michael Castle of Delaware and Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, is designed to reverse President Bush’s August 2001 decision preventing federal funding of any new embryonic stem cell research.

House leaders determine the agenda and they are in support of Bush’s policy. As a result, it is unlikely that the Castle-DeGette bill will get a vote or that it would be allowed to be offered as an amendment to another piece of legislation.

Therefore, the only option advocates of the unproven research may have is a discharge petition.

When leaders of the House prevent a vote on a bill, legislators can band together to sign a petition. If they gather enough signatures, a bill automatically qualifies for the agenda.

However, such a maneuver, which was used successfully to bring forward the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill, is politically risky and difficult to achieve.

DeGette told the Globe newspaper that she was reluctant to pursue that avenue.

Though pressure against the bill from Spekaer Hastert helps the cause, pro-life organizations aren’t taking any chance. They want grassroots pro-life advocates to hit the phone hard in opposition to the bill.

"It is important for pro-life citizens to tell their federal representatives that they support President Bush’s policy against funding research that requires the killing of human embryos," Douglas Johnson of National Right to Life, told

Under the legislation, the Department of Health and Human Services would be required to fund the extraction of stem cells derived from "excess" embryos created for fertility treatment purposes.

Castle says he hopes the reliance on using human beings who are about to be disposed, as opposed to cloning new embryos, will lessen the White House’s opposition to the bill. He’s already met with chief Bush advisor Karl Rove to explore that opportunity.

However, a number of representatives of the White House and the Bush campaign have said over the week that the president is unwilling to flip-flop on his position.

"The President is committed to expanding our country’s proud record in scientific achievements while upholding the highest standards of ethics," Bush-Cheney ’04 spokeswoman Sharon Castillo told "He believes that we must achieve a balance between medical research and the ability to build a culture of life and respect for human dignity."

Jayd Hendricks of the Family Research Council was concerned that Bush would step away from his policy in light of the death of President Ronald Reagan and the media and Nancy Reagan’s push for the destructive research.

However, Hendricks told the Globe that he is now certain the president "is not going to back down."

Castle says he has 69 Republican members of Congress who will support the bill. Just over 20 Democrats and Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors thus far.

In May, 58 Senators and 206 Representatives, representing both parties, signed letters encouraging President Bush to reverse his policy against federal funding.

A similar bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate, likely by Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) or Diane Feinstein (D-CA). Specter led the effort to gather signatures of senators for the letter lobbying Bush.

The embryonic stem cell extraction process destroys the lives of unborn children and has drawn opposition from pro-life groups. They favor the use of adult stem cells, which have proven more effective in clinical trials.

No patients have yet been cured as a result of embryonic stem cell research.

Related web sites:
Members who signed the letter to Bush –
Do No Harm –