Specter: Funding for Embryonic Stem Cell Research after 2010

     The momentum of embryonic stem cell research will be changing direction if Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has his way.

    Specter forecasted that federal funding will be used to pay for embryonic stem cell research. He was promoting his book “Never Give In: Battling Cancer in the Senate,” at Olsson’s Bookstore in downtown Washington, D.C. on April 3.

     “When you talk about cancer, there are over 200 strains or more, so it covers a wide spectrum,” Specter said. “And it is integrated with the issue of stem cell research. It’s really scandalous we’re not using embryonic stem cell research. We passed the Specter-Harkin bill and it’s been vetoed. And, it’s not a matter of whether but when that will be done.”

     Specter is recovering from Hodgkin’s disease, is a type of lymphoma. He explained how he intended to make federal funding for embryonic stem cell research a priority, a goal that hinges on his re-election campaign in 2010.

     “I’m very close to being chairman of Appropriations. I’ve been in the Senate for 28 years.” Specter said. “[Sen.] Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) is the only Republican ahead of me and if I’m re-elected in 2010 – and parties change every six years or so – and I’ll become the chairman. What I want to do is have a reevaluation of our priorities.”

     Specter blamed the federal government for cancer still plaguing the nation 38 years after former President Richard Nixon “declared war on cancer.”

     “We have a budget of three trillion, one hundred billion dollars – that’s a staggering amount,” Specter said. “And, Nixon declared war on cancer in 1970. And if the war on cancer had been pursued with the same intensity as other wars, I wouldn’t have gotten Hodgkin’s and a lot of your friends wouldn’t have died of breast cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer.”

    Specter had a tough fight to get the GOP nomination for his re-election bid in 2004 against then-Rep. Pat Toomey. During the campaign, Toomey had been highly critical of funding Specter had secured for the National Institutes of Health, an organization heavily involved in stem cell research.

     “I had a very tough primary last time, won by 1 percent, 50.6 to 49.4” Specter said. “My opponent was backed by the Club for Growth – all they want to do is cut taxes. They didn’t like the fact that I was for NIH research. So you take political risks when you want to spend money.”

     Specter had no definitive answer for why the government wouldn’t spend more for cancer research, but he did take credit for making inroads.

     “Why doesn’t the government spend enough money to cure cancer – and I can’t give you a sensible answer for that either,” Specter said. “I can tell you long before I got Hodgkin’s; I was chairman of the appropriations subcommittee. I took the lead, along with Sen. Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, for raising the funding from 12 to almost 30 billion dollars. Some years we increased it as much as three-and-a-half million dollars. When those increases were made, there were a lot more grants, a lot more studies.”