Washington, DC — Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today delivered the following floor remarks on the need to move forward on stem cell legislation. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has repeatedly said he will bring bipartisan stem cell legislation to the floor for debate, and has repeatedly failed to follow through on his pledge. Democrats believe the millions of Americans whose lives stem cell research could improve deserve better than inaction and delay.
The remarks, as prepared, follow below.
Speech of Senator Harry Reid on Stem Cell Research
March 3, 2005
Over nine months ago, the House of Representatives passed H.R .810, The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act.
The passage of this bill was a rare victory for bipartisanship.
It was my hope that we would embrace the same spirit of bipartisanship in the Senate and pass this legislation as well. It offers so much hope to the millions of Americans – and their families – who suffer from deadly diseases.
Immediately after the House passed the stem cell bill, I spoke with Majority Leader Frist about the need to take up this crucial legislation as soon as possible. At that time, Dr. Frist assured me that we would consider the stem cell bill in the Senate by July.
By the end of July, the Majority Leader still hadn’t found time to schedule debate on the stem cell bill, so I moved to take up and pass the House bill. Dr. Frist objected to this request, but delivered a speech the next day in which he expressed support for federal funding for expanded embryonic stem cell research. In that speech, Dr. Frist said that the potential of stem cell research to save lives and ease human suffering “deserves our increased energy and focus.”
Yet, when we returned from the August recess, the Majority Leader still could not seem to find time to debate this important legislation. He found time for the Republican’s immoral budget… He found time for drilling in the Artic Wildlife Refuge… He found time to give sweeping liability protections to the drug industry… but he couldn’t find time to keep hope alive for the millions of Americans counting on the promise of stem cell research.
In December, the Majority Leader asked consent to take up and pass a House-passed cord blood bill. Some proponents of embryonic stem cell research initially objected to this request, because they felt strongly that we should take up the cord blood bill and the stem cell bill together. That is what the House did
Once again, Senator Frist expressed his commitment to the stem cell bill, but he didn’t bring it to the floor. He asked the proponents of stem cell research to support his request to take up and pass the cord blood bill in exchange for a commitment to consider the stem cell bill early in the 2006 session.
At that time, Dr. Frist explained, “It is going to take some time that I will give on the floor of the Senate early in the year and have committed to do so because of its importance. It is important to address that in order for that research to be amplified. Much of that research needs to be amplified for cures that may occur 5 or 10 years down the road.” Another three months have passed and now we are into March of 2006. Senator Frist still has not scheduled time to consider the House-passed stem cell bill. We all know that this is a short legislative year – we have less than three weeks remaining in this work period and a short work period in April. Before we know it, it will be May and an entire year will have passed since the House finished this bill. One year may not seem like a lot of time around here, but one year is an eternity if you or someone you love is suffering from a condition where stem cell research could help. Last Sunday, Sixty Minutes, the public affairs program on CBS, ran a segment on embryonic stem cell research. The segment featured a woman – Suzanne Short – who is paralyzed from the neck down. She was hit by a drunk driver 24 years ago. Here’s something Suzanne said about her hope for stem cell research: “Whether I walk or not, I really don’t care. And, yeah, if I do that’s great. But… if you could just wake up one morning and not have to wait for someone to come in my room and get me out of bed, I could at least transfer myself into my own wheelchair, be amazing. I’d be completely independent.” Suzanne Short has waited 24 years for help, and now, because of inaction by the Senate, she’s had to wait even longer. We can do better. We can do better for Suzanne Short, and every other American counting on the promise of the ground breaking research. Every day we delay consideration of this legislation is a day we deny hope to the 100 million Americans who suffer from these devastating illnesses and conditions that have no cure. Diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries, heart disease and ALS. Mr. President, there are a number of very important issues that this body ought to consider this session, but few are as important to the American people as stem cell legislation that could provide medical breakthroughs that would benefit hundreds of millions of people. If we are truly committed to lowering the cost of health care and improving the quality of health care in our nation, then we need invest in medical research that has the potential to combat life-threatening and chronic diseases. Stem cell research shows tremendous promise. Federal funding of embryonic research will allow our nation to lead the world in this research and will ensure that stem cell research is conducted with the strongest oversight in the world at the National Institutes of Health. When it comes to the possibility of finding cures, we cannot leave our best and brightest researchers with their hands tied behind their backs. And we cannot deny 100 million Americans the hope of eventually finding a cure for a wide range of illnesses and conditions. We simply cannot continue to delay legislation that could produce stunning medical breakthroughs.
The House dealt with this issue. We should do the same.
A bipartisan majority supported the stem cell bill in the House, and a bipartisan majority supports the bill in the Senate.
If the Majority Leader truly believes that this issue deserves our “increased energy and focus,” then I hope that he will work with me to schedule time to consider this legislation before May 24th — the one-year anniversary of the House passage of this bill.