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News Flash: Senate Majority Leader Grows Backbone

Jul
29
2005

Wow. Sen. Bill Frist got a spine transplant. Man. This modern medicine is pretty powerful stuff, huh? Particularly when it’s served up with a dose of political ambiton and fear.
The Senate Majority Leader has – finally! – woken up and realized that his job is to lead the United States Senate, not to take orders or dictation from the White House. As such, he’s decided to follow the (increasingly powerful) moderate wing of his party and work to pass a bill that would allow federal funding for some kinds of embryonic stem cell research. Why? ’cause that’s what the legislative branch of the party he’s supposed to lead wants to do.
But Frist always wants to have it both ways. The kicker comes near the end of this New York Times story.

In his speech, Mr. Frist seemed to adopt that line of reasoning, harking back to a set of principles he articulated in July 2001, before the president made his announcement, in which he proposed restricting the number of stem cell lines without a specific cutoff date. At the time, he said the government should pay for research only on those embryos “that would otherwise be discarded” and today he similarly supported studying only those “destined, with 100 percent certainty, to be destroyed.”
Moreover, he said, “Such funding should be provided only within a comprehensive system of federal oversight.”…
[The legislation currently proposed] “lacks a strong ethical and scientific oversight mechanism,” does not prohibit financial incentives between fertility clinics and patients, and does not specify whether the patients or the clinic staff have a say over whether embryos are discarded. He also says the bill “would constrain the ability of policy makers to make adjustments in the future.”


Interesting. Now, this is obvious cover because it allows Frist to move another step away from his baloney diagnosis of Terri Schiavo. Schiavo – and the interference that Frist and Congress condoned and led in that family’s private horror – is going to be with him for a great deal of time. Moving away from the conservatives on stem cells, allows Frist to tell moderates that he’s a good and reasonable guy. But he can also tell more conservative members of the party that stem cell research will be tightly bound and overseen by federal regulators, a group conservatives despise with all their “let us alone” might. This is the approach that many anti-abortion groups are using as a way to better “regulate” clinics that, among other services, provide abortions. It’s an effective trick. Ask Planned Parenthood.
Frist’s change of heart also gives him some points with moderate Republicans and Democrats. This is important because of the pending debate on the Supreme Court nomination. A staunch advocate of passing stem cell legislation, Sen. Arlen Specter is a key player on the Supreme Court process, too. And a happy Specter – oh, rare event! – is one who might be willing to play a little ball with the White House and stand tough with Democrats.
Oh and, lastly, Frist’s move makes sense. One of the problems with state-sponsor initiatives like the one that passed here in California is that backers clear their own path, politically and ethically. That’s supposed to be the government’s job and while he’s doing it for cravenly political reasons – Frist wants to be president and probably still doesn’t realize it’s not going to happen – it’s nice to see the people who we elect to run the U.S. government actually do their jobs.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 10:26 AM | Permalink

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