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61 senators urge Bush to OK stem-cell funding

By Dana Bash and Kate Snow
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sixty-one senators urged President Bush in two separate letters Friday to allow federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, stepping up the pressure as Bush nears a decision on the issue.

One letter, signed by 48 Democrats and 11 Republicans, was initiated by Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts. The same 11 Republicans were joined by two others in signing a separate letter initiated by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania. All 13 GOP senators have endorsed federal funding for the research in the past.

"This letter is an indication of the overwhelmingly strong support in the United States Senate for a reasonable and thoughtful approach to lifting the ban on stem-cell research," Kerry said of his effort.

Having legalized human embryo cell research, Britain is attracting U.S. stem cell scientists who can't get federal funding. CNN's Sheila MacVicar reports (July 20)

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CNN's Elizabeth Cohen says stem cell research is gaining political support in Washington (July 18)

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After a Senate hearing Wednesday when Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, announced his support for tightly limited embryonic stem-cell research, a spokesman for Kerry said the senator felt it was important to make it clear to the White House there were more than just a handful of senators who feel strongly about the issue.

Specter expressed a similar view: "To me there is more than a groundswell; there is really an avalanche of support."

He said he believes there are about a dozen additional members of his party -- most of whom are anti-abortion -- who would endorse taxpayer funding for the studies because of the embryonic cells' potential for fighting disease.

Specter and Kerry believe as many as 75 senators may support federal money for embryonic stem cell research, ultimately enough to override a potential presidential veto of such funding.

Bush, as a foe of abortion, has been grappling with a decision over whether to allow federal funding -- weighing the disease-fighting benefits against the belief by many that using human embryos is immoral.

Many believe the emphasis should be placed on adult stem-cell research, which poses fewer ethical questions.

But even opponents admit momentum for federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research has been slowly building among congressional Republicans, especially since the announcement of support by Frist, the only physician in the Senate and a close ally of Bush.

Frist linked his support to a list of 10 conditions. One of those conditions was that federal funds may be used only for studies with embryos derived from private dollars, which is the current law.

The 13 Republicans who wrote Bush asked him to support legislation to allow researchers to use federal funding to derive the stem cells from embryos, saying current law is too restrictive.

The Republican lawmakers, most of whom are against abortion, said bans should remain on creating human life through cloning or other means.

"However, creating embryos for research purposes is entirely different from using spare embryos left over from infertility treatments. These spare embryos are now destined to be thrown away. Rather than discarding them, we support using these embryos in Medicare research to treat and cure disease," the senators wrote.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, a strong supporter of federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, says he will not take the issue up in the Senate until Bush makes his decision.

"If Bush moves forward to ban federal funding, he [Daschle] believes the Senate will vote to fund life-saving research. He believes in it strongly and will move it quickly through the Senate," said Anita Dunn, a spokeswoman for Daschle.

At least two large groups of Republicans in the House have already sent letters to the president urging him to allow the research. Friday's letters appear to be the first large-scale effort by members of the Senate to influence the president's decision.



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