This afternoon, as expected, the House passed the stem cell funding bill, 253 to 174, falling well short of the 290 votes needed to overturn a Bush veto. Debate now moves to the Senate, where news reports peg support teetering right at the 2/3 majority needed in the chamber to override the anticipated presidential veto.
So what are the options and where are things headed? A range of possibilities exist, with many floated this week in press reports:
a) Supporters keep passing versions of the bill, and Bush keeps vetoing, until public pressure builds, and either House members shift their votes or Bush caves in. Back in the summer, when Bush used the first veto of his presidency to reject a similar stem cell bill, polls indicated that roughly 60% of the public disagreed with his decision. If supporters of the 2007 bill can move these opinion numbers up closer to 70-75%, then pressure will really start to mount on House members.
b) Advocates sweeten the pot for compromise by adding provisions to the bill that include funding for programs that donate unwanted frozen embryos to infertile women, a program favored by Bush; require extra ethical oversight for stem cell research; or increase funding for studies of non-embryonic cells.
c) In Senate debate, the bill is modified, meaning that upon Senate passage, the bill would go to conference. With this event, following a Bush veto, an override would be debated first in the Senate, where a 2/3 majority is likely to vote to overturn Bush’s decision, thereby exerting pressure on the House to do the same. In combination with compromise provisions in the bill, this added pressure might be enough for some House members to switch their votes, reaching the needed 290 votes in the chamber.
As all of this plays out, expect a familiar strategic communication strategy from both sides, as I detailed earlier this week over at my Skeptical Inquirer Online column.