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Bush pushes ethical stem cell research

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush urged a Democratic-controlled Congress Jan. 28 in his last State of the Union speech to maintain policies he has promoted and adopt recommendations he has previously offered.

Speaking in the eighth and final year of his two-term presidency, Bush called for a ban on human cloning, permanent extension of the Charitable Choice program that bars discrimination against faith-based organizations in social service programs and Senate confirmation of his nominees to federal judgeships.

The president’s 53-minute address to a joint session of Congress also urged the Senate and House of Representatives to make the tax cuts from his first term permanent and to provide full funding to the American military forces in Iraq.

In a joint statement after the speech, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi agreed with Bush’s call for bipartisan cooperation but said he “offered little more than the status quo.”

“At a time when our economy is on shaky ground and our leadership around the world is eroding, the status quo won’t do,” they said.

Bush promoted continued research into new medical therapies “while respecting moral boundaries,” pointing to November’s announcement that scientists had found a way to reprogram adult skin cells into the functional equivalent of embryonic stem cells. Unlike embryonic stem cell research, the newly discovered reprogramming technique does not require the destruction of human embryos.

“This breakthrough has the potential to move us beyond the divisive debates of the past by extending the frontiers of medicine without the destruction of human life,” the president said. His administration will increase grants for this kind of ethical research, Bush said.

In 2001, the president issued an executive order barring federal funds for stem cell research that destroys embryos. He has vetoed congressional efforts to override his policy. Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into tissues and other cells, providing hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions.

Bush also said all life must be handled with dignity in research. “And so I call on Congress to pass legislation that bans unethical practices such as the buying, selling, patenting or cloning of human life,” he said.

There is no federal prohibition on any form of human cloning. The House passed bans on cloning for research and reproductive purposes in 2001 and 2003, but the Senate has yet to vote on a comprehensive prohibition.

“President Bush’s unwavering policy has been vindicated as researchers have discovered new, ethical sources for stem cells that show great promise,” Darla St. Martin, co-executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, said in a statement after the speech. “We commend President Bush’s leadership in protecting the dignity of human life.”

In calling for confirmation of his judicial nominees, Bush said he had submitted the names of those “who will rule by the letter of law, not the whim of the gavel. Many of these nominees are being unfairly delayed.”

He urged extending Charitable Choice in an effort “to help guarantee equal treatment of faith-based organizations” in competition for federal funding.

The president also announced a new initiative building on the school choice program approved by Congress that he said has aided more than 2,600 children in the District of Columbia. The new $300 million program, titled Pell Grants for Kids, is designed “to help liberate poor children trapped in failing public schools,” he said.

After calling for Congress to make his tax cuts permanent, Bush promised to veto any bill he receives that raises taxes. He also urged adoption of the economic stimulus package, which includes tax relief, agreed to the week before by Pelosi.

On Iraq, the president contrasted the difference between the conditions this year as opposed to those when he gave his State of the Union speech in 2007. The troop surge instituted by his administration is working, Bush said.

“[S]ome may deny the surge is working, but among the terrorists there is no doubt,” he said. “Al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated.”

While these surge forces are beginning to return home as a result of their success, Bush said the United States will continue to fight terrorists, an effort that has marked his presidency since the Islamic extremists attacked New York and Washington Sept. 11, 2001. There will be 3,200 Marines added to the forces in Afghanistan to battle the terrorists and train Afghan forces, he said.

“Since 9/11, we have taken the fight to these terrorists and extremists,” the president said. “We will stay on the offense; we will keep up the pressure, and we will deliver justice to our enemies.”

In other comments, Bush:

— said he had told Israeli and Palestinian leaders he, as well as the United States, would do everything possible to reach a peace treaty “that defines a Palestinian state” before 2009.

— told Iran’s leaders America would defend its Persian Gulf interests.

— reiterated U.S. opposition to genocide in Sudan.

— promised he would veto any spending bill that “does not cut the number and cost of earmarks in half.” (Earmarks normally are congressional provisions that benefit specific organizations or projects in legislators’ states or districts.)

— said he would issue an order directing federal agencies to ignore future earmarks that are not approved by a congressional vote.

— announced his new budget will end or largely decrease abut 150 “wasteful or bloated programs” that total more than $18 billion.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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