McCain and Obama: The Same on ESCR?

McCain and Obama: The Same on ESCR? September 29, 2008

In one sense the answer to the question is obviously yes. Both Obama and McCain favor federal funding for embryo-destroying research, and so far as I call tell there is no daylight between them on the subject of what types of research they would like to subsidize. And while McCain has occasionally made noises to the effect that he might possibly drop his support for ESCR, he hasn’t done so yet. Politics, however, is about not only the positions that one holds but about how those positions will be implemented. And on that score there is a very clear difference between Obama and McCain when it comes to federal funding for embryo-destroying research.

Federal funding for embryo-destroying research can come about in one of two ways. It could be enacted by congress, either with the President’s support or over his veto, or it could be enacted via executive order. Senator Obama has pledged that, if elected, he would immediately sign an executive order granting funding for embryo-destroying research. McCain has not made such a commitment, and the view among ESCR’s main supporters in the congress seems to be that he would wait for congress to pass a bill rather than acting on his own.

This difference is potentially decisive. If a bill funding embryo-destroying research has to make it through congress, there will be ample opportunities for funding opponents to offer alternatives, present evidence as to the ineffectiveness of ESCR and/or the viability of alternatives, and to use procedural devices such as the filibuster to prevent its passage. Such tactics provide the possibility, though not the certainty, that federal funding for ESCR would never even make it to McCain’s desk. Should Obama simply sign such funding into law via executive fiat, by contrast, there will be no debate, no chance to present alternatives or sway moderates. It will all be over and done with in a day.

To say that a McCain presidency would be preferable on the ESCR issue than an Obama presidency is not to deny the awfulness of McCain’s own views on the matter. A choice between a 80% chance that federal funding for embryo-destroying research and a 100% chance of federal funding for embryo-destroying research is not a good one by any means. Nonetheless, there is a difference.

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