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Inside Politics

Stem cell bill may draw veto threat

House proposal would expand research funding

From Dana Bash

White House
George W. Bush
Medical Research
House of Representatives

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House intends to threaten a veto on a House bill that would expand public funding for embryonic stem cell research beyond the limits President Bush set in 2001, two senior administration officials said Thursday.

The veto threat could come as early as next week from President Bush himself, but that has not been decided, the officials said.

The House of Representatives could take action next week on a bill that would broaden the limits on government funds for embryonic stem cell research. Bush outlined those limits four years ago.

Bush and top officials have been trying to decide how to deal with the measure, which has about 200 co-sponsors.

Bush aides said they're concerned the measure could pass the Republican-led Congress by a veto-proof margin.

GOP leaders are apparently calling this a "vote of conscience," meaning they are not pressuring members to vote any particular way. The White House hopes a veto threat could help keep the vote low.

Bush's policy, announced in August 2001, limits federal funding for research on human embryonic stem cells to cell lines already in existence.

The House bill -- backed by Rep. Michael Castle, a Delaware Republican, and Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat -- would lift that restriction.

Since 2001, scientists have complained that many of the existing stem cell lines were contaminated. Some believe stem cell research has the potential to lead to a cure for Alzheimer's and other diseases.

In addition, some powerful Republicans, including former first lady Nancy Reagan, have come out against the president's limits.

But the harvesting of embryonic stem cells is opposed by some conservatives who link it to abortion.

Bush aides say the president intends to stand firm.

"If we were going to change our position, we would have done it during the campaign," one quipped. (Full story)

But the White House is trying to hone its communications strategy in preparation for renewed debate over the issue.

Officials say they may try to recruit first lady Laura Bush, who spoke out on the issue during her husband's re-election campaign as the daughter of an Alzheimer's patient. (Full story)

And they intended to repeat the message, as they did during the campaign, that the president is not opposed to stem cell research. The issue, they say, is how taxpayer dollars are spent.

They say they are also considering whether to step up the focus on other, less controversial stem cell research, such as work focusing on blood from newborns' umbilical cords.

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