Senate likely to add human cloning debate to agenda

Senate Republican sources say the Senate is now likely to take up the issue of human cloning this year in order to keep pace with new scientific breakthroughs, potentially adding yet another high- profile contentious issue to the legislative agenda.

The issue could gain new momentum following Sunday's announcement by scientists in Massachusetts who said they have created the world's first cloned human embryos.

The House passed a human cloning ban in July. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, released a statement Monday urging the Senate to stop what he called "amoral, scientifically suspect tinkering with the miracle and sanctity of life," adding, "It's time for the Senate to put the deal-making aside and join the House in banning human cloning - before it's too late."

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., is expected to press the Senate to immediately pass a cloning ban despite Majority Leader Daschle's promise that the Senate would vote on the issue in February or March of next year. Daschle made that announcement this year when Brownback agreed to withdraw his anti-cloning amendment from the fiscal 2002 Labor-HHS appropriations bill.

Daschle said Sunday on Fox News that he supports cloning for medical research purposes, but said there was "overwhelming opposition" in the Senate to cloning for purposes of human replication, which he said he opposes vehemently. He said reports of the new cloning were disconcerting and added, "To take it to the direction that this story suggests is one that I think we're going to want to look at very closely in the Congress." But Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., has said that Congress should take its time dealing with the issue and that he favors taking up the bill early next year.

The White House said Monday that Sunday's announcement of cloned human embryos represents the "first crossing of the line" and underscores the need for a federal ban on such cloning, the Associated Press reported.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said such work amounts to human cloning and lays bare "the conundrum of scientific progress, where progress can also be measured in terms of how many lives will be taken to save a life.

That's something the president has drawn a strong ethical line in the sand on and said that line should not be crossed." President Bush "hopes that as a result of this first crossing of the line - and the first step into a morally consequential realm of creating a life to take a life in the name of science-that the Senate will act on the House legislation so that this procedure can be banned," Fleischer said.

The prospect of adding yet another contentious issue to the Senate's already full plate threatens to further prolong the session. Congressional leaders are expected to focus on the economic stimulus package Tuesday at a White House meeting with Bush. There are strong disagreements between Republicans and Democrats on whether to provide an additional $15 billion supplemental appropriation for homeland security. Republicans believe they have the votes to defeat such an amendment if it is offered to the fiscal 2002 Defense appropriations bill, and Daschle wants the new spending to be part of negotiations on the stimulus package.