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Democrats will keep stem cell bills coming

Published January 11, 2007

100 hours in Congress

WASHINGTON - Last year, Rep. Diana DeGette was just a liberal from Denver with about as much clout in the Republican-led House of Representatives as the guy in the Jesus costume who often stands outside the Capitol.

But Wednesday, in Hour 6 of the Democrats' 100-hour blitz through their top priorities, the world was a different place. And DeGette, one of those motherly, antigun, antiwar environmentalist types who greets colleagues with a hug, was joyously holding another news conference to brandish her new club for thumping Republicans.

That club is a four-page bill that would obliterate President Bush's restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, which the House is expected to pass today.

It is the same bill the president vetoed in August. There is little question he will veto it again. And with the Democrats now in charge, there is little question that Congress will just pass it again. And again. And again.

Heh, heh, heh.

"This was such a persuasive issue, as you can see, in the midterm elections," DeGette said, glancing at 13 freshman Democrats who built their campaigns largely on expanding embryonic stem cell research. Eight of them defeated Republicans who voted against it last year.

"The president is not off the hook until he agrees to ethical embryonic stem cell research," DeGette said.

From Wednesday's passage of an increase in the federal minimum wage to a planned cut in interest rates on student loans, each of the six items on the Democrats' 100-hour agenda is popular with voters.

Each is also opposed by Republican leaders. Particularly the stem cell bill.

During Republican rule, House leaders loved to hold votes on banning gay marriage. They knew it would never become law - the Senate killed it every time - but the issue pleased their political base, and they reveled in putting Democrats on record as enemies of "traditional marriage."

Under the Democrats, stem cell research is the new gay marriage.

"During the campaign, I said this is a positive wedge issue," DeGette said after she and her Republican co-sponsor, Mike Castle of Delaware, reintroduced the stem cell bill this week. "It's an issue that is actually a wedge, but unlike gay marriage it's not a punitive measure."

DeGette, 49, has a 13-year-old daughter, Francesca, whose juvenile diabetes is one of many diseases that might benefit from embryonic stem cell research.

Many Republicans aren't thrilled to have it come up again, only to see their president veto it. Castle and others have implored the White House to find some way to resolve the issue. Their entreaties have been ignored.

They also had hoped the House's new Democratic masters would tweak last year's bill, to give Republicans a graceful way to change positions.

But the only change was this: Instead of Castle-DeGette, the bill is now called DeGette-Castle. She is, after all, in the majority.

DeGette said she is open to tweaking the bill, to talking with the White House. But not today.

"We want to make the statement ... by bringing it up as one of the first issues in the House and the Senate that this is an important issue to the American public," she said, "and it's not going away."

The bill should pass the House easily today, though without enough votes to withstand a veto. The Senate will follow shortly. If - or when - the president vetoes it, DeGette said the Democrats are prepared to bring it up later this year in other iterations, or as part of a larger bill. Again, and again, and again.

About this series

As Democrats launch their 100-hour blitz on new legislation, the St. Petersburg Times' Washington bureau is chronicling the days ahead in a series of short stories about moments along the way. To read previous stories visit

[Last modified January 11, 2007, 01:13:18]

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