“We have to pass the bill, so you can find out...what is in it.”
That was Nancy Pelosi talking to her colleagues about the monstrous “Affordable” Care Act. And, of course, they did pass it, on a slim, completely partisan vote, without even knowing the details of what they were passing. How could they? The bill, like too many “comprehensive” bills, ran thousands of pages.
But today, I’d like to talk about the content of another such comprehensive bill that has just passed the Senate, originally called the Endless Frontier Act. It’s designed to compete technologically with China, which certainly is a laudable goal, and the name “Endless Frontier” sounds great in that context. However, in medical research, there are some frontiers that we should think about long and hard before we cross, if indeed we ever do.
Our curiosity about the development of this bill started building on Thursday, when Tammy Bruce on FOX NEWS PRIMETIME did a segment on its potential to fund research on “chimeras,” organisms that combine the DNA of humans and other animals. What??
Here is the report by Charles Creitz at FOX NEWS, featuring Bruce’s segment, which includes her interview with guest Lara Logan.
The Endless Frontier Act was introduced by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, which alone sends up red flags. But it got bipartisan support, with six Republican and seven Democrat co-sponsors. The final 1,445-page bill passed the Senate Friday, after being “rebranded” by Schumer as the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. Who could be against innovation and competition?
But one thing the Chinese apparently are working on is this kind of trans-species research. In fact, as Bruce reported, they’ve actually created human-monkey embryos that lived 20 days in a lab. So are we going to compete with China on THAT kind of innovation? What could possibly go wrong?
In May, numerous amendments were introduced. One of them, brought by GOP Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma, Steve Daines of Montana and Mike Braun of Indiana, would have outlawed the type of experimentation that hybridizes human and animal DNA through bioengineering, sometimes called “chimera” research.
Some scientists call this area of experimentation “Pandora’s Box,” with good reason. We’ve already seen how research from Chinese labs –- in this case gain-of-function manipulation on coronaviruses –- can inflict disaster on the world. Recall that funding for gain-of-function was banned during the Obama administration, but that it happened anyway when the NIAID (National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease) funded an intermediary group that, in turn, funded the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
But the amendment to Schumer’s bill outlawing the funding of “chimera” research did not pass. And the Senate went on to pass their “comprehensive” bill without it.
I'm sure there are some excellent provisions in this bill, but how could any pro-life Republican senator have possibly supported it, absent that amendment? Without it, we might very well be funding research using human embryos and other fetal tissue. But the bill passed 68-32; do the math.
Think those experiments aren't going on? Wrong.
Here’s a report by Tyler Olsen at FOX NEWS from May 19, when Republicans were proposing their various amendments to the bill. Any concern about fetal tissue or "chimera" research was not mentioned.
At the time, the bill was to cost $130 billion, and Republicans chafed at that. The Republican Study Committee in the House had dubbed it “the Endless Pork Act,” which I’m sure is accurate. Yet some Republicans thought it didn’t go far enough and needed important amendments. “As it stands,” said Florida Sen. Rick Scott, “much of the Endless Frontier Act will not effectively counter Communist China’s aggression. A slush fund to universities with little security and oversight isn’t the answer.” He had proposed amendments, he said, to “secure American innovation, protect our national security, hold China accountable and put American interests first.”
At that time, Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee said, “While I am still reviewing the hundreds of pages that comprise this legislation, it is my belief that this bill will need to be seriously improved through the amendment process to attract broad support. Enhancing U.S. research and development is an important part of countering Communist China, but that alone is not enough for the Senate to say it has checked the box and held the regime accountable.”
The story gives examples of amendments several Republican senators backed. Ted Cruz, for instance, backed amendments banning China from controlling American radio stations (good idea!); adding money for the extraction of rare earth minerals (which we need to end our dependence on China); blocking the sharing of nuclear technology with China (thank you); and addressing the issue of Chinese spies at American universities, including Confucius Institutes, which happen to be in the news today for another reason.
Sen. Cruz ended up voting “no” on the final bill.
One House aide, a Republican, told FOX NEWS that China “is really breathing a sigh of relief” because the bill, as much as it costs, won’t do much. He said it should require disclosure for all think tanks that are funded by the Chinese government (of course it should!) and also sanction the CCP’s United Front Work Department. Good idea; here’s what the UFWD does.
A later story from May 27 by Sam Dorman of FOX NEWS gets to the meat of what happened with the “chimera” amendment: “The Senate narrowly rejected an amendment geared towards criminalizing research that created chimeras, or human-animal hybrids, in expectation that the federal government could lift a moratorium on funding for those projects.” This would have been a way to provide a check on the National Institutes of Health possibly lifting its moratorium on “chimera” research.
On a party-line vote, 48 Republicans approved the amendment. Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Thom Tillis of North Carolina inexplicably did not vote. WHERE WERE THEY? And the one Democrat who might have defied his party, Sen. Joe Manchin, didn’t vote, either. These three could have made the difference.
Currently, the International Society for Stem Cell Research has guidelines that we should all find reassuring (too bad you can’t hear the sarcasm in my voice right now): “This research must proceed incrementally, stopping at well-defined timepoints to assess the degree and scope of chimerism during development before proceeding to full gestation, if full gestation is one of the well-defined goals of the research. To avoid unpredictable and widespread chimerism, researchers should endeavor to use targeted chimerism strategies to limit chimerism to a particular organ system or region of the gestating chimeric animal.”
Feel better? It occurs to me that the way we put our bills together is, itself, kind of like making a chimera. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, sometimes it dies, or maybe just part of it dies, but let’s see what we come out with in the end. It might be something that should never see the light of day.