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Senate passes stem-cell funding bill

Story Highlights

• 63 votes in favor will not be enough to override promised veto
• Bush resists funding research that destroys living human embryos
• Stem cells hold promise for treatment of variety of conditions
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate approved a measure that would roll back President Bush's 2001 limits on embryonic stem-cell research Wednesday afternoon, but the margin was short of the two-thirds needed to override a promised veto.

Bush used the only veto of his presidency to date to kill a 2006 effort to loosen his policy on stem-cell research, which bars the use of federal funding for work that would destroy human embryos.

In a statement issued after Wednesday's 63-34 vote, he said he would veto the new bill as well, saying it "crosses a moral line that I and many others find troubling."

"I believe this will encourage taxpayer money to be spent on the destruction or endangerment of living human embryos -- raising serious moral concerns for millions of Americans," he said.

But the president said he would sign a Republican alternative that would encourage other forms of stem-cell research without changing his 2001 policy. That measure passed by a 70-28 vote.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Republican bill was aimed at providing "cover" for lawmakers who wanted to vote against a popular issue.

"Americans, by a huge majority, favor stem-cell research because they see the suffering of their own friends and relatives and neighbors. ... They put their faith in science," said Reid, D-Nevada.

The measure passed Wednesday would allow researchers to obtain stem cells from embryos created for in vitro fertilization that would otherwise be discarded by fertility clinics. The House of Representatives passed a similar bill in January, but it also fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

One of the Senate bill's principal sponsors, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, said the bill had the support of three senators who did not vote Wednesday, meaning supporters were just one vote shy of the 67 needed to override a veto.

"It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when," Harkin said.

In 2001, Bush limited the use of federal research funds to work on stem-cell lines that existed at that time. Researchers have since found those lines are contaminated and unusable, prompting calls to roll back the restrictions.

Scientists hope that stem cells will yield treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes, as well as spinal-cord injuries. But because days-old human embryos are destroyed when the cells are extracted, critics equate the procedure to abortion.

Abortion opponents such as Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, equated the use of embryonic stem-cell research to slavery.

"Its end is the way of death," said Brownback, a Republican presidential hopeful. "It kills a young human life. It harms us as a culture when we treat human life as property. We've done that. We don't like it. We don't like the history associated with it."

Fourteen other Republicans supported the bill, while two Democrats -- Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Robert Casey of Pennsylvania -- voted against it. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a staunch opponent of abortion rights, was one Republican who supported the bill.

"I'm hopeful that the president won't veto this, because I think he can see -- anybody can see -- that it's just a matter of time until we get this through," Hatch said.


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