Bush's first veto keeps stem cell funding curbs
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WASHINGTON -- President Bush issued the first veto of his 5 1/2-year-old administration yesterday, rejecting Congress's bid to lift funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research and underscoring his party's split on an emotional issue in this fall's elections.
At a White House ceremony where he was flanked by children produced from what he called adopted frozen embryos, Mr. Bush said taxpayers should not support research on surplus embryos at fertility clinics, even if they offer possible medical breakthroughs and are slated for disposal.
The vetoed bill "would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others," the president said, as babies softly cooed and cried behind him. "It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect."
Each child on the stage, he said, "began his or her life as a frozen embryo that was created for in-vitro fertilization but remained unused after the fertility treatments were complete. ... These boys and girls are not spare parts."
Within hours of his announcement, the House, as expected, fell short in a bid to override the veto, extinguishing the issue as a legislative matter this year, but not as a political issue.
Democrats said voters will penalize GOP candidates for the demise of a popular measure, and predicted that the issue could trigger the defeat of Bush allies such as Republican Sen. Jim Talent, who faces a tough re-election battle in Missouri. "Those families who wake up every morning to face another day with a deadly disease or a disability will not forget this decision by the president to stand in the way of sound science and medical research," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
Some conservative Republicans also criticized the veto. "I am pro-life, but I disagree with the president's decision," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a heart surgeon who is weighing a 2008 presidential run.
The Republican-controlled House and Senate passed the stem cell legislation by comfortable margins, but not with the two-thirds' majorities required to override a veto. The House voted 235 to 193 yesterday to override Mr. Bush, falling short of the threshold and negating the need for a Senate override attempt.
Mr. Bush did sign a bill, unanimously passed this week by the House and Senate, to ban the creation of human fetuses for the sole purpose of harvesting organs. But the House thwarted prompt passage of another bill he had hoped to sign yesterday. It would have promoted efforts to conduct stem cell research without destroying embryos.
Mr. Bush called it "an important piece of legislation," but several Democrats called it a political fig leaf intended to distract attention from his veto of the long-debated funding measure for embryonic cells.
First Published July 20, 2006 12:00 am