Senate Democrats

REID: ONE YEAR IS TOO LONG TO WAIT FOR STEM CELL RESEARCH

Washington, DCA year after the House of Representative passed legislation (H.R. 810) that would expand the President’s stem cell research policy, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid delivered the following Floor remarks to urge Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to bring that House-passed stem cell legislation to the Senate Floor. Despite the promise such research offers to millions and the repeated promises to consider this bill, Senator Frist has so far failed to include it in his planned “health” week next week.

The text of Senator Reid’s remarks, as prepared, follows below. Like all members of Congress, I receive hundreds of letters each day. Among these letters are some truly remarkable stories. Among the most remarkable letters are those from families with loved ones who are suffering and who believe stem cell research offers the only hope to ease this suffering.

Here’s one such letter, which I recently received from mother in Henderson, Nevada. She wrote:

– “….My son 22 year-old son was in a diving accident just two weeks after graduating from high school and is now a quadriplegic. So instead of heading off to college on a soccer scholarship that autumn, he found himself being fitted for a wheelchair and a life of total dependency on others…..while they [stem cells] may not cure him to the point of walking again, they will certainly provide him with an opportunity to improve the quality of his life. He wants to be able to feed himself, brush his own teeth, wash his hands and face when he wants to…I know you support stem cell research but I just wanted to give you my support and the support of our entire family as you fight the fight for those who can’t fight for themselves….”

Here’s another, from a father from Yerington, Nevada. He wrote:

– “I am asking you again to do your best for my son and the millions of others that need a cure for diabetes….My son was in the hospital yesterday… I can’t tell you how hard and painful it is to see your son like that…..my wife and I would give our lives to ensure that our son can beat diabetes…..The Senate will soon vote on the stem cell bill that you support. Please try to change the minds of those that are not for it.”

And then there’s this, from a man from Las Vegas:

– “I have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)….. my family doesn’t want me to leave them. At the least, my family wants some hope that science will be allowed to use all means available to them, to try to find some treatment that will extend life until a cure is found. I would like to have those people who are opposed to federal assistance for embryonic stem cell research for therapeutic purposes, explain to my family why they are being denied hope that might be available if the federal government funds all reasonable medical research for my illness and those other illnesses that today provide no hope for the future.”

Mr. President, these families are not asking a lot, simply for the Senate to act on the issue of stem cell research and in doing so, give hope to the 100 million Americans suffering from cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries, heart disease, and ALS.

Stem cell research holds so much promise for medical breakthroughs. As Nancy Reagan–who watched with great courage as Alzheimer’s took her husband–said, “I just don’t see how we can turn our backs on this…We have lost so much time already. I just really can’t bear to lose any more.”

Nancy Reagan said that in 2004.

Unfortunately, two more years have passed and this Republican-controlled Congress has been unable to reach agreement on how to expand the President’s restrictive stem cell policy that is hindering scientific progress toward possible cures and treatments for a wide range of diseases and conditions.

We are rapidly approaching the one-year anniversary of the date the House of Representatives passed H.R .810, The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. This act would expand President Bush’s 2001 policy for federal funding for stem cell research and permit federal researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – with the strongest oversight in the world – to finally explore the many possibilities stem cell research holds.

Over the past year, I have repeatedly asked the Senate Majority Leader to find time to consider this bill, which a bipartisan majority of Senators support.

My requests for action have been met by delay and inaction.

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.

I understand that there are a number of very important issues this body ought to consider this session, but few are as important to the American people as legislation that could provide medical breakthroughs that would benefit hundreds of millions of people.

We can do better. We can do better for the Nevadans I talked about earlier, and for every other American counting on the promise of this ground breaking research.

The passage of the House stem cell bill on May 24, 2005 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.

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 courageous 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… 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.

While Senator Frist expressed his commitment to the stem cell bill, once again he refused to permit the Senate to consider it. Instead, 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.

Three months after Dr. Frist made this commitment, I raised the issue again. I asked that he schedule time for the Senate to consider this issue prior to the one-year anniversary of the passage of the House bill. Unfortunately, this request met the same fate as my previous requests.

Two months have passed since my last exchange with Senator Frist and he has yet to provide the Senate with an opportunity to pass this important legislation. Even as he announced his plans for a “Health Week” in the U.S. Senate sometime this month, he made clear stem cell research would not be part of his plan.

Today is May 4th and we are fast approaching the one year anniversary of the House passage of H.R. 810 and the start of “Health Week”. We still don’t have a commitment to take up this critical stem cell legislation and all those who could benefit from this research have waited long enough.

That is why I am sending the Majority Leader a letter signed by 40 Democrats asking him to make H.R. 810 a priority during health week. I ask unanimous consent that this letter be included in the record.

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.

The House dealt with this issue. We should do the same. I hope that the Majority Leader will find this legislation important enough to consider as part of “Health Week” and 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.

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