November 06, 2006

The Chronicle Mantra: States? What States?

The Chronicle sort of takes issue with Fossett, but not really, since like most major media [and all of mainstream bioethics] they are obsessed with whether or not the federal government will reach the level of support for ESCR to begin doling out some tiny percentage of what the Stem Cell Republic of California is already providing. Perhaps you'll have a different judgment. Jim will:
Even if Democrats run the table and win every Congressional race up for grabs in Tuesday's elections, Congress would probably lack the majorities necessary to overcome a likely presidential veto and expand federal funds for research on human embryonic stem cells.

That assessment comes from a Chronicle analysis that examined how a Democratic sweep might alter the pattern of voting on a bill, approved by Congress this year, that would expand the financing. President Bush vetoed the measure, HR 810, and the House of Representatives failed to muster the votes to override the veto. Two-thirds majorities are needed in both chambers to overturn a presidential veto.

The issue has since become a major factor in some Congressional races, as Democrats have used it to try to attract swing voters. Republicans cast almost all of the votes against the bill. Some polls indicate that two-thirds of Americans want to expand federal financing of the controversial research.

The House of Representatives approved HR 810 in 2005 by a vote of 238 to 194. (Democrats are a minority of House members, but 50 Republicans were among those voting yes.) To overcome Mr. Bush's veto, supporters of the bill would have needed 291 votes, or two-thirds of the 435 seats in the House over all.

Rep. Michael N. Castle, a Delaware Republican who sponsored HR 810, plans to introduce similar legislation next year, said a spokeswoman, Kaitlin Hoffman, on Friday. She said that Congressman Castle planned to strengthen the language's ethical guidelines in ways that might win over some opponents of the current bill, including President Bush. For example, she said, the new bill could spell out requirements that parents give informed consent to donate embryos for the research.

Many Democrats and a few Republicans running for contested seats have indicated that they would vote for legislation like HR 810. But after the election, Ms. Hoffman said, "we probably will still not be close enough to 291" to override a veto.

The Chronicle analysis focused on 62 House races that have been defined as competitive by the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter regarded as having the pulse of Congressional electoral politics. The Chronicle examined how the incumbents in those races had voted on HR 810 and what positions on the issue have been taken by their challengers.

In only a minority of the 62 races do Tuesday's elections appear to have the potential to shift votes on the stem-cell issue in the legislation's favor. That's partly because the 62 include 12 Republican and five Democratic incumbents who voted for HR 810. In at least two other races in which the Republican incumbent voted against the bill, the Democratic challengers say they would have done the same.

The 62 seats also include 15 where Republican candidates are favored to win, and most of them say they oppose expanding the federal financing.

In the 373 House races that are defined as noncompetitive by the Cook Political Report, Tuesday's elections are expected to result in little change in the balance of votes on the stem-cell issue. So the Democrats would need a lot of upset victories by party candidates who favor expanding stem-cell research to pick up the 53 additional seats required to reach a veto-proof majority.

In the Senate, Democrats are expected to pick up several seats, perhaps enough to yield the 67 needed to override a presidential veto. Sixty-three senators, Democrats and Republicans, voted for HR 810 in July. But a Senate override would be moot if the House failed to go along with it.

Complicating Democrats' attempts to draw distinctions with Republicans, some GOP candidates in House races have issued statements proclaiming that the candidates support stem-cell research. The statements go on to say, however, that the candidates endorse federal financing only of the noncontroversial forms of the research, involving stem cells derived from the adult body and umbilical cords.

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