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Bush's Obstructionism

August 09, 2004

Poll after poll finds that Americans overwhelmingly support lifting President Bush's constricted stem-cell research policy and renewing the expiring federal assault gun ban. Yet the president's reelection game plan is trumping the desires of most Americans and, apparently, a majority in Congress.

Bills that would accomplish both critical goals are stalled. Congressional leaders, taking their cue from a president anxious to please a loyal minority of hard-right voters, refuse to schedule votes.

Many scientists believe that research using human stem cells holds promise for treating such ailments as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, muscular dystrophy and diabetes. But three years ago, Bush limited federally funded researchers to 64 existing embryonic cell lines, arguing that experimenting on human embryos was tantamount to abortion and would encourage more abortions. Even many antiabortion lawmakers disagree with Bush, knowing that there are an estimated 400,000 frozen "test tube" embryos, mostly in fertility clinics, that researchers could use and that would otherwise probably be discarded.

The approved cell lines have largely proved unavailable or unusable for research. Several pending bills, including one co-sponsored by Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), would expand stem-cell research. Expansion draws support from lawmakers in both parties and has been passionately boosted by Republican icon Nancy Reagan. For voters, it isn't even a close call: 72% of Americans in a June poll backed stem-cell research. Still, House and Senate leaders won't budge.

They are playing the same cynical game on assault guns. A poll released last month found nearly 80% of Americans support renewing the 10-year-old ban on the manufacture and sale of certain semiautomatic assault guns. That ban expires Sept. 13. Even a majority of gun owners have told pollsters they think the ban on such murderous weapons makes sense.

Most senators seem to agree: An amendment reauthorizing the ban passed in March, 52 to 47, but the larger bill to which it was attached died. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) hasn't allowed a vote since, and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who admitted last week that the measure "might have a chance on the floor," has blocked all votes.

Look to the National Rifle Assn. for the reason why. Killing the assault ban is one of the group's top goals. In years past, Bush said he supported the ban, but these days he's anxious to win the NRA's endorsement, as he did in 2000. So he has stayed mum, and GOP leaders won't put him on the spot by sending a renewed ban to his desk. Maybe the inaction of Bush and GOP lawmakers will help the president among his most conservative supporters, but it is against what most Americans see as their best interests.

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