Reagan lobbied members to support stem-cell bill

Former first lady Nancy Reagan called members of the California congressional delegation shortly before the House voted May 24 on a stem-cell-research bill, urging support. Reagan’s support for the bill puts her squarely at odds with President Bush, who has vowed to use his veto for the first time to squash the stem-cell measure.
Former first lady Nancy Reagan called members of the California congressional delegation shortly before the House voted May 24 on a stem-cell-research bill, urging support. Reagan’s support for the bill puts her squarely at odds with President Bush, who has vowed to use his veto for the first time to squash the stem-cell measure.

The former first lady’s backing may explain why so many California Republicans backed the bill — nearly half, or nine out of 20 in the state’s congressional delegation, compared to barely one in five in the whole GOP caucus.
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Former first lady Nancy Reagan: Urging support for stem cell research.


Both conservative and liberal groups are planning to highlight the stem-cell issue in the 2006 elections.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) confirmed that Reagan had called him and “several” other members of the California GOP delegation, including Rep. Ken Calvert, who ultimately supported the measure.

“I know a few of them received phone calls from Nancy Reagan,” another House member from California said. “[Rep.] David Dreier, he was undecided until a few days before, and then he got a call from Nancy Reagan.”

Dreier, too, voted for the bill, known as the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which passed 238 votes to 194 and has triggered momentum for the Senate to consider similar legislation.

The Los Angeles-area congressman was joined in his support by Reps. Buck McKeon, Randy Cunningham and Darrell Issa, among others. Except for Rep. Mary Bono (R-Calif.), one of the stem-cell bill’s co-sponsors, all of the California Republicans who voted for the measure oppose abortion rights.

Stem-cell activists said two other factors contributed to GOP support — the state’s “changed climate” after last year’s Proposition 71 and a bulging biotechnology sector.

California voters strongly backed a stem-cell-research measure last November; that measure devotes $3 billion to the research over the next decade.

State Sen. Deborah Ortiz, a Sacramento-area Democrat and a leading proponent of stem-cell research, said that since September 2002, when the state passed a bill promoting embryonic-stem-cell research, biotechnology firms, research institutes and scientists from across the country have been migrating to California.

That influx has been felt most, Ortiz and others tied to the medical-science community said, in San Diego, where the so-called big four are located — the University of California at San Diego, the Salk Institute, the Burnham Institute and the Scripps Research Institute, the largest private research facility in the world.

A source close to biotechnology firms in Southern California estimated 39,000 people are working in the “life sciences,” not including hospital or healthcare workers, in San Diego alone. Ortiz said at least 250,000 people in the state are doing biotechnology-related work.

Joe Panetta, the president and CEO of the San Diego-based group Biocom, a trade association for the biotechnology and medical-device sectors, predicted California could be the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars yearly from the National Institutes of Health for stem-cell-related work.

Panetta, who said he helped Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) craft the stem-cell bill, conceded that the recently passed bill doesn’t appropriate additional money but opens the door to do so.

A May 19 letter to Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) from the presidents of the University of California, the California Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the University of Southern California appears to buttress Panetta.

“The provisions within H.R. 810 are more restrictive than those of the California Initiative; however, H.R. 810 is crucial because it will make a significant difference to nationwide federal research programs,” the letter states, referring to the stem-cell bill. “This expansion in policy will further facilitate and accelerate the research conducted in our state.”

Bono dismissed the suggestion that California might profit from federal funding of stem-cell research. “If anything, one could argue that California stood to lose money by broadening research elsewhere,” she said.

Calvert spokesman Anthony Gostanian said his boss had already made up his mind to vote for the measure before Reagan called.

A spokeswoman for the first lady indicated she was unable to say whether Reagan called any House members.
The vast majority of Democrats — including all those from California — supported the stem-cell bill.

Rohrabacher said that his thinking about stem-cell research was altered last year, when his wife gave birth to triplets after the couple used in vitro fertilization.

The congressman stressed that his support for the research did not conflict with his anti-abortion rights stance. “This bill focused totally on the leftover fertilized eggs from the in vitro process, and my belief is that, and it seems very clear, that those fertilized eggs have no potential for life unless they’re implanted in a woman,” he said.