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Stem Cell Work Gets States' Aid After Bush Veto

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  • Ram Lau
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/25/us/25stem.html Stem Cell Work Gets States’ Aid After Bush Veto By JODI RUDOREN CHICAGO, July 24 †President
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 25, 2006
      Stem Cell Work Gets States’ Aid After Bush Veto

      CHICAGO, July 24 â€" President Bush’s veto of legislation to expand
      federally financed embryonic stem cell research has had the unintended
      consequence of drawing state money into the contentious field and has
      highlighted the issue in election campaigns across the country.

      Two governors seized the political moment Thursday, the day after the
      veto, to raise their ante for stem cell research.

      Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, a Republican who helped Mr.
      Bush win a second term but has long disagreed with him on this
      research, cited the veto as he lent $150 million from the state’s
      general fund to pay for grants to stem cell scientists. In Illinois,
      Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, a Democrat opposed to most every White House
      initiative, offered $5 million for similar grants in his state.

      Before the announcements, the only money available was $72 million
      that five states had allocated for the research and $90 million that
      the National Institutes of Health had provided since 2001 for work on
      a restricted number of stem cell lines.

      Several other governors, including one Republican, M. Jodi Rell of
      Connecticut, denounced the president’s veto, his first, in a sign of
      the political potency of the stem cell debate.

      Within hours, too, the issue sprang to the forefront of some crucial
      campaigns, including ones for governor, senator and representative in
      Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Missouri and Tennessee.

      In many cases, Republican moderates, mindful of consistent polls
      showing public support for expanded stem cell research and expecting
      the promised attacks from Democrats, sought to distinguish their
      positions from their president’s.

      For Mr. Schwarzenegger, who is running for re-election in a state
      dominated by Democrats, support for stem cell research has helped
      position him as a centrist, but his Democratic opponent, Phil
      Angelides, the state treasurer, tried to one-up him by taking credit
      for the loan.

      Sean Tipton, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical
      Research, the lead lobbyist for the bill Mr. Bush vetoed, said, “In
      terms of actually getting some resources to the scientists, it turns
      out like it may be a good week.”

      “I also think there’s symbolic significance,” Mr. Tipton said. “It
      sends a strong signal to patients that there are some politicians that
      care about them and want to see them taken care of.”

      Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, said of the president,
      “While he recognizes that states have the legal power to use their own
      funds for embryonic stem cell research, he hopes researchers and
      entrepreneurs will focus on developing effective cures,” including
      those “that don’t involve controversial practices.”

      Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee dismissed the
      initiatives in Illinois and California as a “public relations gimmick”
      to divert attention from a debate over whether scientists should be
      allowed to create embryos through cloning.

      “It’s regrettable,” Mr. Johnson said, “but it’s really a matter of
      their trying to focus public attention on an issue that is significant
      but is not really the front line of this battle.”

      In Florida, stem cell research is a rare point of contention between
      two Republicans vying to succeed the president’s brother Jeb as
      governor. But when one of them, Attorney General Charlie Crist,
      announced that he “respectfully” disagreed with the veto, his rival
      Tom Gallagher, the chief financial officer, accused Mr. Crist of
      taking “every opportunity to disagree with the governor and the
      mainstream of the party.”

      Meanwhile, Rod Smith, the Florida state senator who is the Democratic
      candidate for governor, promised, “When I become governor, we are
      absolutely going to do stem cell research and we are going to fund it
      in this state.”

      In Maryland, Democratic hopefuls in the governor’s race responded to
      the veto with visits to the homes of quadriplegics and patients with
      Parkinson’s disease who could benefit from stem cell research, while
      the Republican incumbent, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., pointed to his
      support of the research as evidence that he did not “govern from the
      right or the left but the center, where most of us are.”

      In Colorado, Representative Diana DeGette, a Democrat and a sponsor of
      the vetoed legislation, staged a protest rally on Friday when the
      president visited her district for a $1,000-a-plate luncheon on behalf
      of Rick O’Donnell, a Republican who supports his position.

      Nowhere is the issue hotter than in Missouri, where voters in November
      are likely to face a ballot initiative supporting stem cell research,
      and where Senator Jim Talent, a Republican who is seeking re-election,
      opposes it. Mr. Talent’s Democratic challenger, Claire McCaskill, the
      state auditor, highlighted the issue last week when she delivered the
      Democrats’ radio address and then initiated a conference call with
      national reporters to spotlight her support.

      The moves in California and Illinois continue the patchwork pattern of
      public financing for stem cell research since 2001, when Mr. Bush
      announced his policy restricting how federal money could be used in
      the arena.

      More than 100 bills have been considered over the past two years by
      dozens of state legislatures, with one, South Dakota’s, banning such
      research altogether and five â€" in California, Connecticut, Illinois,
      Maryland and New Jersey â€" allocating state resources to the effort.
      Other states, including Indiana, Massachusetts, Virginia and
      Wisconsin, have taken steps to support stem cell science without
      directly paying for research, while Arizona, North Carolina and
      Virginia have formed groups to study their state’s role in the
      emerging field.

      Mr. Schwarzenegger’s announcement on Thursday of the $150 million loan
      will provide the single largest public pot yet available.

      “I think with one stroke, the president energized” the program, said
      Zach W. Hall, the president of the California Institute for
      Regenerative Medicine, which had an anemic $14 million to spread among
      16 training grants before the veto, and which will soon be flush.
      “It’s not what we would have wanted, but it did have that beneficent
      side effect.”

      For California, the $150 million is half the $300 million per year
      that would be provided under a decade-long, $3 billion bond issue that
      59 percent of voters approved in 2004. Taxpayer groups sued to block
      the bonds and appealed a verdict in May that favored the state. At the
      same time, “bond anticipation notes” floated in the interim found
      little favor in the market. The $150 million loan is intended to fill
      that shortfall and would be repaid by bond proceeds, presuming the
      state prevails in court.

      “Arnold is supposed to be a Republican, so I don’t understand his
      thinking here with President Bush. It seems like he’s going against
      the party line,” said Dana Cody, executive director of the Life Legal
      Defense Foundation, one of the groups suing the state. “It’s very
      inconsistent with the governor’s platform, if you will, of ‘we’re
      tired of being taxed.’ That’s $150 million coming out of the
      taxpayers’ pocket for something that is questionable at best because
      of the litigation.”

      Asked at a news conference in Sacramento on Friday about the political
      implications of making such a forceful public move to oppose the
      president he has previously supported, Mr. Schwarzenegger said, “You
      don’t have to agree with someone on every issue.”

      “It doesn’t matter to me what the president thinks about it, or what
      any party thinks about it,” the governor added. “I always try to do
      what’s best for the people of California.”

      In Illinois, the $5 million would come out of the administrative
      budget in the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, and would
      be added to $10 million in grants awarded in April to hospitals and
      universities. A five-year, $100 million investment that Mr.
      Blagojevich pushed has been stalled in the Legislature.

      Mr. Blagojevich, who was vacationing in Michigan when the new money
      was announced via a news release, declined an interview request,
      through a spokeswoman, Abby Ottenhoff.

      “It was after the veto that the governor determined there were no more
      options,” Ms. Ottenhoff said. “This research is too important to put
      on hold until there is a new leader in the White House.”

      Even with the limitations on federal financing, the overall financing
      available for stem cell research could be described as fairly robust,
      given that the research is still at a basic stage and that in addition
      to state money, philanthropies like the Howard Hughes Medical
      Institute have made contributions. Moreover, in the private sector,
      biotech companies like Geron, Advanced Cell Technology and Athersys
      conduct research on embryonic or adult stem cells.

      While stem cell scientists applauded the states’ efforts, they
      cautioned that such an approach was not ideal.

      “In the long term, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have individual
      states trying to mount efforts which are going to be more piecemeal,
      less effective and take more time than a federal effort,” said Douglas
      A. Melton, co-director of the Stem Cell Institute at Harvard
      University. “I don’t think states should mount their own militias either.”

      Dr. Arnold Kriegstein, director of the Institute for Regeneration
      Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said that the
      $150 million was “absolutely a boon,” but that “if you’re an
      investigator in another state, besides Illinois or California, I think
      you’d be very frustrated right now.”

      Candace Coffee, a Los Angeles resident who has suffered partial
      blindness, paralysis and constant headaches from Devic’s disease,
      appeared with Governor Schwarzenegger on Friday at his news conference.

      “President Bush’s veto stole my hope,” Ms. Coffee said. “But just as
      quickly as our hope was stolen, it was renewed.”
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