WASHINGTON -- In a rare rebuke, Congress defied President Bush yesterday, sending him legislation that would give scientists broader access to embryonic stem cell lines for federally funded research into an array of illnesses and conditions from spinal cord injuries to Alzheimer's, diabetes to Parkinson's disease.
Without ceremony, Bush is expected to quietly veto the measure today. It would be his first veto during 5 1/2 years in office, though he has threatened to exercise that power 141 times. An effort to override the veto today is likely to fall short, said House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican.
After two days of emotional debate, with numerous senators recounting the painful loss of loved ones, the Senate voted 63-37 in favor of the legislation. The bill would lift restrictions imposed by Bush in 2001, limiting federally funded research to already-existing stem cell lines. Instead, scientists would be allowed to work on embryos that would otherwise have been destroyed in the in-vitro fertilization process.
Opponents, including Bush, have long argued that embryonic stem cell research is immoral and unethical because the embryo is destroyed for the research.
"The president believes strongly that for the purpose of research, it's inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder," said White House spokesman Tony Snow.
Most scientists believe embryonic stem cells are capable of forming all of the different tissue types found in the human body. That could allow for the replacement of damaged and diseased cells and organs, as well as the possibility of testing and developing new drugs.
The issue is a politically potent one, with public opinion polls showing broad support for the research. Democrats say they are poised to take advantage of that in the midterm congressional elections Nov. 7.
Nevertheless, the vote was a bipartisan one, with 19 Republicans and 44 Democrats voting to undo the president's policy. Support for the measure came from some lawmakers who typically oppose abortion.
Both of Maryland's Democratic senators supported the bill to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, as well as two related pieces of legislation.
"We ought to move forward with stem cell research," Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes said. "It has the potential to help us cure some of these major illnesses and diseases. The material is only going to be thrown away. Instead, why don't we use it for some potentially lifesaving breakthroughs?"
In a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said the commitments of individual states - including Maryland - to stem cell research were not enough. Federal funding, she said, should lead to national standards for this kind of research and, hopefully, to breakthroughs.
Mikulski described sitting by her father's bed as he suffered from Alzheimer's disease and couldn't recognize her or her mother.
"We watched what that disease did, and now I will not stand patiently by and watch the opportunity to find a cure to pass by," she said.
Jill Zuckman writes for the Chicago Tribune. Sun reporters Gwyneth K. Shaw and Matthew Hay Brown contributed to this article.