Washington, Nov. 1--(AP) Lawmakers pulled controversial proposals on stem cell research and cloning Thursday after they threatened to gridlock a Senate hurrying to complete work on must-pass spending bills.
Moderate Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter had included language in a labor and health spending bill that would have bent President Bush's new policy on stem cell research to allow couples to donate unused embryos from fertility clinics. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. and an ardent abortion foe, rejected the stem cell language because "it goes further than the president's position." Brownback said he would counter the proposal with several amendments, including one on the contentious issue of banning human cloning.
The complicated health issues could have tied the chamber in knots as it rushes to finish business for the year. "We need to get this work done that is on the floor," Sen. Robert Byrd, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, implored lawmakers earlier in the day. Specter and Brownback announced they had reached an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to withdraw their issues until the Senate had time to hold extensive debate, probably early next year. "It would have been very, very difficult to grasp these issues," Specter said. "It can wait until the February-March time frame."
The White House had recommended a veto if the stem cell language had remained in the bill. Bush in August issued a long-awaited policy that restricts stem cell research to the 64 stem cell lines administration officials said already exist.
The Specter language, inserted by the Democratic-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee, would have allowed stem cell research using embryos that would otherwise be destroyed, if permission is granted by the people whose fertility treatments created the embryos.
Bush had hoped to stay out of the embryo debate, offering a middle-of-the-road solution to an issue that had ignited both sides of the abortion debate. For years, the Clinton administration had said that as long as private dollars paid for the extraction of the stem cells, federal money could be used for research.
Abortion opponents have long worried that embryos are destroyed for stem cell research. Others have said the embryos were going to be destroyed anyway and could be used for important research. Scientists hope to use stem cells - which can grow into any type of human tissue - to treat Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other diseases.
The White House issued a statement Tuesday saying it was concerned Specter's proposal "would signal a weakening of the federal government's commitment" to protecting embryos.
Brownback's amendments would have banned the creation of embryos for research, outlawed human cloning and prohibited the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos. The House in August rejected human cloning as well as the cloning of human cells to find diseases for cures.
A stem cell debate would have reignited what was an intense issue earlier this year. Critics complained then that Bush overstated the number of lines, or cell colonies, that would prove suitable for use by scientists.