The US bill that would expand federal funding for human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research appears to be poised for defeat. Republican President Bush has promised to veto the bill again, and Congress appears unable to garner enough votes to override the president's opposition. A year ago, Bush exercised his first presidential veto against a virtually identical bill that passed despite a Republican-led Congress. Democrats put similar legislation at the forefront of their agenda when taking congressional power this year.
In April this year, the Senate passed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act 2007 by a 63-34 margin including 17 Republicans. Three supporters were not present for the vote but even with their support, the Senate would be one vote shy of the two-thirds majority vote required to counter a presidential veto. Earlier, the House cast a 253-174 vote, just 37 votes short of the 290 required to be veto-proof, for a version that lacked the Senate's insertion of a measure for the government to encourage research into alternative therapies. It is expected that the House will adopt this version and send it onto the President this week. Given public opinion polls and congressional support it is now expected that the next stem cell battleground will be the 2008 elections.
Individual state funding initiatives have been launched to compensate for the absence of federal funding. The Illinois House approved last week, by 70-44, a proposal to allocate a potential £12.5 million raised from state tobacco taxes for stem cell research and establishes a new institute to award grants. The bill further bans 'reproductive cloning', the cloning of humans, but supports 'therapeutic cloning', the cloning of cells for research purposes. It now awaits Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich's approval. Blagojevich has already dedicated £7.5 million to stem cell science over the last two years by executive decree to avoid California's problem with litigation from taxpayer groups opposed to ES cell research. Tom Cross, the Republican Minority House Leader, who sponsored the bill and raised 14 Republican votes in its support, felt that it was important to show voter-support for ES cell research to assuage scientists' fears that the state could later legislate to hinder or outlaw their work.