By MAEVE RESTON
May 31, 2005
But this year, as the thorny issue of federal financing for embryonic stem cell research winds its way back to the forefront in Congress, Pennsylvania's two senators are again sliding into the role of legislative adversaries - this time on an issue of intense personal importance to both of them.
Specter has reintroduced legislation with a formidable bipartisan group of colleagues that would expand government funding for embryonic stem cell research far beyond the narrow limits that President Bush set in 2001. The bill would allow federal money to be spent for research on frozen embryos created through fertility treatments at in vitro clinics, as long as the embryos were going to be discarded and the couple agreed to donate them.
For five years Specter's initiative on stem cell research has languished in Congress. But his effort gained new momentum this past week when the Republican-dominated House passed an identical measure, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, with a 44-vote margin - a feat that seemed virtually impossible several years ago.
The path ahead for the legislation remains rocky. The Senate's Republican leaders, including Santorum as No. 3 in the hierarchy, are still debating whether they will bring Specter's bill to the Senate floor for a vote. Even if they do, the legislation's supporters worry that it could become a vehicle for a host of anti- abortion amendments that one senior Democratic aide described as a "legislative nightmare."
The larger hurdle is Bush's threat to veto the legislation, which he considers to have crossed "a critical ethical line."
Specter said he believed he could build a coalition of senators large enough to overcome to override a presidential veto; to do that Specter and his colleagues must line up the support of two-thirds of the members of both the Senate and the House.
One of Specter's chief combatants in that effort is sure to be Santorum, the Senate's third-ranking Republican, who as Republican Conference Chairman helps shape the message and communication strategy of his party.
The two senators have a close working relationship on many issues, especially when it comes to bringing federal money to Pennsylvania but they are miles apart on stem cell research.
Santorum said in an interview that the legislation Specter has proposed amounts to "the wholesale destruction of human life paid for by the federal government."
He went on to say "We're certainly have a fight about this (in Congress)," and flatly predicted "The bill is not going to become law."
"The president is going to veto it; the House is will sustain (the veto). So do we want to spend weeks or days or long time in a very tight Senate agenda to deal with a bill that is never going to become law? I would say no."
There is little, if any, middle ground between Santorum and Specter in their ideological arguments in the embryonic stem cell debate.
Some anti-abortion rights lawmakers, including Specter's Republican co-sponsors Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, support embryonic stem cell research because they believe life begins when an embryo is implanted in a woman's womb.
But Santorum believes that life begins at conception - when a woman's egg is fertilized and becomes a unique organism. Santorum takes a harder line than Bush and opposed the president's decision in 2001 to he allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research on what was then believed to be more than 60 existing embryonic stem cell lines.
"Science is not an ethics free zone. Just because you can't do something that doesn't mean you should," Santorum said.
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