WASHINGTON – Despite a boost from the majority leader, there is not enough Senate support now to override a threatened veto if Congress tries to ease restrictions on embryonic stem cell research (search), a key proponent said Sunday.
A favorable Senate vote is considered more likely now that Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has reversed his position to support more federal dollars for research. However, the Senate vote will not matter if, as lawmakers predicted, a veto by President Bush stands in the House.
Sen. Arlen Specter (search), R-Pa., who sponsors a bill easing restrictions that Bush put in place, said Frist gave his side "a big boost." A vote on the bill could come in September.
While a bill would pass the Senate with a simple majority, 67 senators would be needed to fend off a veto by Bush if all 100 senators voted.
"My analysis is that we have 62 votes at the present time, and we've got about 15 more people who are thinking it over," Specter said on "Face the Nation" on CBS. "I believe that by the time the vote comes up, we'll have 67."
On the same program, a leading opponent of embryonic stem cell research, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., countered: "You don't have the votes in the House of Representatives to overcome a presidential veto."
The bill passed the House in May by 44 votes, under the two-thirds of the 435-member House needed to override a veto. However, Specter said Frist's endorsement could provide "a little political cover" for House members to vote to override.
Supporters of the research believe that stem cells, which potentially can grow into any type of tissue in the body, hold the promise of one day treating Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, cancer, diabetes, spinal cord injuries and more.
"It's one of the most exciting medical findings of our age," Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said on a Sunday cable news show
However, even supporters allow that successful stem cell treatments are still years away. Foes of the research consider it the equivalent of abortion because embryos must be destroyed to harvest the stem cells.
"And this is an innocent human life," Sen. Rick Santorum (search), R-Pa., said on "This Week" on ABC. "You're destroying this life for the purpose of research which has questionable value."
Santorum said that "without question, the president will veto this."
Bush in 2001 banned federal dollars for stem cell research beyond existing cell lines, although private groups have paid for some new research. The bill in Congress would lift Bush's restrictions.