June 20, 2007 -- President Bush blocked expansions to embryonic stem cell research Wednesday, vetoing for the second time a bill increasing federal funding for the studies.
At the same time, the president signed an executive order promoting alternative technologies that some scientists think may be able to produce embryonic or "embryonic-like" cell lines without destroying embryos.
Congress twice has passed bills repealing a policy set by Bush in August 2001 that strictly limited federal grants for embryonic research. The policy restricted funding to cell lines already created at the time.
Congress wants the National Institutes of Health to fund research on lines extracted from embryos left over from fertility treatments. The bill would require written consent from parents and would bar any payment for the embryos.
But the president made good on his threat to block the stem cell bill because it results in the destruction of embryos.
"I made it clear to Congress and to the American people that I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line," the president said in a White House speech Wednesday.
Attention will now turn to the Senate, which is on the cusp of mustering the votes needed to override the veto. Supporters say they have the support of 66 senators, just one short of the number needed for an override, assuming all 100 lawmakers vote.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he will move quickly to schedule the vote, but not before a successor is named for Wyoming Republican Sen. Craig Thomas, who died earlier this month of acute myeloid leukemia.
But an override appears unlikely in the House, where supporters passed the bill June 8 but fell more than 40 votes shy of a veto-proof majority. If it does fail, Democrats said they would continue adding stem cell provisions to bills coming through Congress this year.
"The reason we keep bringing it up again and again is because we want it to become law," says Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., the chief sponsor of the bill in the House.
Along with his veto, the president signed an executive order directing officials to pursue alternative stem cell production methods. Researchers reported earlier this month that they were able to coax mouse skin cells to revert back to an embryonic stage by using chemical signals.
Other research over the last year has suggested that stem cells may be extracted from embryos without damaging their viability, or that embryonic-like cells could be harvested from a pregnant mother's amniotic fluid.
If any of the methods prove useful in humans, it could provide a way around the ethical divide between some pro-life conservatives and proponents of using embryonic stem cells.
There's a lot of interesting work going on that's ethical and moral," the president said.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the bill's chief Senate backer, says Americans should not be "fooled" by the president's order. "Our legislation takes the shackles off of researchers and allows the most promising field of biomedical research of our day to move forward."