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Bush Stem Cell Veto Threat is Dems' Opportunity

July 10, 2006

In an interview with the Denver Post editorial board, Karl Rove signaled that President Bush would use the first veto of his presidency to block Congressional stem cell legislation. For Democrats, that veto threat could be just what the doctor ordered.
In a nutshell, Bush's 2006 base-baiting, red meat strategy could well backfire when it comes to stem cell research. In May 2005, 50 Republicans joined a united Democratic block in passing the bi-partisan Castle-Degette bill by 238-194. (The House bill would undo President Bush's August 2001 ban on federal funding for research on new stem cell lines.) Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist, whose grandstanding during the Terri Schiavo affair left his own presidential ambitions on life support, has made it clear he will part company with President Bush by championing the Senate's bill. As ThinkProgress reported last week, Missouri Republican Senator Jim Talent faces a difficult reelection fight, in part due to his opposition to a state ballot initiative protecting stem cell research from state restrictions.
Unlike other aspects of the "fags, flags and fetuses" program contained in the Republicans' so called "American Values Agenda," stem cell research bans don't enjoy much support among either the conservative chattering classes or Americans overall. In 2005, George Will spoke of the "silliness" of "'social conservatives' purporting to speak for 'values voters' -- what voters do not intend their political choices to advance their values." Nancy Reagan, who has been an outspoken advocate of stem cell research in the wake of her husband's devastating experience with Alzheimer's Disease, pleaded in 2004, "Science has presented us with a hope called stem cell research...I just don't see how we can turn our backs on this."
Americans of all political stripes agree. By August 2004, Harris Interactive reported that Americans supported stem cell research by 73-11%, including a whopping 60-18% plurality among Republicans. Polls also show consistent support for federal funding of stem cell research, even among supporters of the GOP. Legislatures and voters in California, Massachusetts and New Jersey have all approved major state investments in stem cell research.
Democrats should call President Bush's bluff. Stem cell research offers the potential of life-giving therapies for Americans. But for President Bush and the radical right, blocking stem cell research could be a poison pill. "It is something," Karl Rove admitted, "we would, frankly, like to avoid."


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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