Washington Prowler

Stemming Specter

Is the White House ready to give Arlen Specter what he wants on stem cell research in return for going easy on Harriet Miers?

By 10.21.05

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There are other, big fights going on up on Capitol Hill besides the SCOTUS nomination, and none is bigger than the imminent legislative action on embryonic and non-embryonic stem cell research. Sources up on the Hill say it's possible that within the next week, the Labor-Health and Human Service-Education Appropriations bill will hit the Senate floor. "It could come as early as tomorrow [Friday]," says a Senate source.

Why is this such a big deal? Because Senator Arlen Specter, better known these days as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been agitating for a vote on embryonic stem cell research before the end of this legislative year, and he has threatened to use the Labor-Health approps bill to get it. Conservative Republicans are said to be concerned that he will offer this embryonic stem cell research legislation as an amendment during floor debate on the appropriations bill.

Specter got a somewhat unexpected ally earlier this year when Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist declared his support for killing human embryos. But Senate insiders say Frist has been hesitant to bring a stand-alone bill to the floor out of concerns such a bill would take days of debate off what is a tight legislative calendar.

Now word is coming out of the White House that it might not be opposed to Specter being allowed to offer his stem cell legislation as an amendment to the Labor-Health approps bill. And what does the White House get out of it? Specter's backing off from vocal criticism of SCOTUS nominee Harriet Miers.

"We don't do that kind of horsetrading on those kinds of issues," says a White House source.

But the Miers nomination now may be in enough trouble that a desperate White House might be willing to look the other way for Specter's silence.

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UPDATE (As posted on AmSpecBlog at 4:26:53 PM on Oct. 21): It looks like Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist did good by getting Sen. Arlen Specter to back off his demands for a fast vote on stem cell legislation. Specter had been threatening an attempt to tack his embryonic stem cell bill onto the Labor-HHS appropriations bill that is hitting the Senate floor shortly.

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