President Bush’s first veto

Here we are, five and a half years into George W. Bush’s Presidency, and he’s not yet vetoed a bill. Not even a single bill. All sorts of bad legislation have been passed, from the bankruptcy reform legislation that makes it harder for people to start again after declaring bankruptcy, to budgets containing huge increases in spending, to a really offensive campaign finance reform package that restricts political speech.

All passed with nary a peep from the President.

So what gets Bush’s dander up enough to finally pull out his veto pen and use his power to veto a bill he doesn’t like?

Embryonic stem cell research, that’s what. Even his own party is turning against him on this one:

WASHINGTON – Debating science, ethics, morality and humanity, the Senate prepared Tuesday to send a bill expanding federal funding of embryonic stem cell research to an unreceptive President Bush.

It wasn’t a matter of simple party politics, however, as some of Bush fellow Republicans launched a last-ditch lobbying effort to save the bill from his veto.

Wrote California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: “Mr. President, I urge you not to make the first veto of your presidency one that turns America backwards on the path of scientific progress and limits the promise of medical miracles for generations to come.”

And former first lady Nancy Reagan quietly made calls to a few senators to try to build support toward a veto-proof margin. But no one was predicting the legislation would win the required 67 votes.

With the showdown vote approaching, the White House left little doubt about Bush’s intentions: he will veto the bill when it reaches his desk, a statement said.

Still, supporters said the pressure of public opinion eventually will push the government toward funding the studies. They argue that research into stem cell treatments holds the promise of cures for a host of debilitating diseases afflicting millions of people.

Well, HR 810 (the bill that would authorize an expansion of Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research to include cell lines derived from embryos made in fertility clinics that would be discarded anyway, passed, but it was four votes short of a veto-proof margin.

If you want the single most telling reason why I’ve drifted away from the Republican Party in recent years, President Bush’s disdain for promising medical research and the power of the religious right to force any Republican candidate to pander to them in this way is why. Yes, the promise of stem cell research has on occasion been overhyped, but even a more modest assessment makes it clear that such research holds great promise for some significant breakthroughs in medicine, breakthroughs that Bush is on the verge of making much more difficult to achieve or, worse yet, of handing over to private industry, which can do the research without Federal funding–or worst of all, of surrendering America’s lead in biotechnology to the Koreans, Chinese, and other nations who understand the potential of this research and are not shackled by fundamentalists.

Even though at least 2/3 of the nation supports funding stem cell research, it’s looking increasingly as though Bush’s policy will not be reversed until after he leaves office, thanks to the religious right. And, make no mistake about it, it will be reversed soon after Bush leaves office, almost regardless of whether the Democrats or Republicans win. There’s just too much bipartisan support for funding this research (too bad it wasn’t quite enough to overcome the impending veto), and several states are trying to step in where the Federal government is dropping the ball. The only question will be when the next President signs a bill reversing Bush’s ill-advised policy: Will it be too late? Will the eight year delay have put the U.S. hopelessly behind in this area research?