The delay on stem-cell policy

THE DELAY ON STEM-CELL POLICY…. Two weeks ago, President Obama “guaranteed” that he will sign an executive order overturning Bush’s ridiculous policy on embryonic stem cells. Obama has been consistently critical of the existing restrictions — in the Senate and as a presidential candidate — so I’m not concerned about him ending up with a bad policy.

I’m not sure, however, what’s taking so long.

At the National Institutes of Health, officials have started drafting guidelines they will need to start funding human embryonic stem cell research that has been off-limits for nearly eight years.

At the University of California at San Francisco, scientists are poised to dismantle the cumbersome bureaucracy they created to segregate experiments that were acceptable under the federal restrictions from studies that were not.

At the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Cambridge, Mass., graduate students and other scientists paid with federal grants are eagerly awaiting the day when they can contribute their eureka moments to projects that are forbidden under the current policy.

But in the month since Inauguration Day, the moment they have been awaiting has not come, prompting some to ask: When will President Obama deliver on his campaign promise to lift one of the most contentious policies imposed by his predecessor?

“Everyone is waiting with bated breath,” said George Daley, a leading stem cell scientist at Children’s Hospital in Boston. “We’re all waiting to breathe a huge sigh of relief.”

I’m a little surprised it hasn’t happened yet. I’d heard rumors that this would be one of those first-week executive orders, but so far, nothing.

As I understand it, Obama prefers Congress re-pass the legislation Bush vetoed on stem-cell policy. If large, bipartisan majorities in both chambers support DeGette-Castle, then, the president figures, there’s no need for an executive order that future presidents can easily reverse. Send him the bill and he’ll sign it.

But Congress can be a little slow. Why not sign the executive order in the short term, and then work with lawmakers on codifying the changes into law?

Just today, six “centrist” House Republicans sent a letter to the White House, urging the president to “immediately lift the current federal restrictions on funding for embryonic stem cell research.” They added, “After the current restrictions are lifted, we stand ready to work with you and our colleagues in Congress on adopting complimentary legislation.”

Here’s hoping the president takes them up on their offer — sooner rather than later.

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