Democrats force stem cell research to Senate agenda

After going zero for three in "Wedge-Issue June," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) must have decided that it would look good on his resume to actually get some meaningful legislation passed in the 109th Congress. This forced Frist before the July 4 recess to agree to a deal with Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that will on Monday start a week of debating and voting on stem cell research in the form of three bills before the Senate.

The big one -- file this under better-late-than-never, I guess -- is H.R. 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which will "amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research." The House bill would permit federal funding for research using stem cells derived from embryos originally created for fertility treatments and that were expressly donated by patients.

H.R. 810 was passed by the House of Representatives on May 24, 2005 by a vote of 238-194 and is clearly being brought to the Senate floor by the GOP leadership to provide them some cover in a huge election year in which there is a real chance that they will lose both houses of Congress.

"When you ask the American people, do you want us to move forward on medical research involving stem cells, 70 percent of the American people say yes," said Dick Durbin (D-IL) on the Senate floor, before Reid backed Frist into a corner. "I guarantee that when we return after the Fourth of July recess, the month of July is going to be stem cell month in the Senate. We are going to, with regularity, come to the floor and not only speak to this issue but ask unanimous consent to move to this issue."

And it looks like Frist, who supports limited stem cell research, knew the deck was stacked against him on the issue, as both Durbin and Reid promised to loudly invoke H.R. 810 every single day in July or until it was formally placed on the Senate calendar.

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