It’s typically one of the least controversial bills Congress takes up—a reauthorization of the national bone marrow donor program—but for reasons that seem divorced from reality, two of the most tendentious GOP lawmakers voted against the measure this week.
Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO) were the two lone noes on a 415-2 vote on Thursday, and their opposition to a bill aimed at helping treat diseases like leukemia seemed, at best, curious.
In a 132-word statement provided to The Daily Beast, Greene railed against the national debt, abortion, and a lack of transparency—”ZERO transparency”—on spending. “Congress does not take the time to fully read and understand the bills it passes,” Greene wrote.
But judging by an earlier statement from Greene’s spokesman, Nick Dyer, it’s Greene and her staff that may be the ones confused about the actual bill.
“Nothing in this bill prevents the funding of aborted fetal tissue by taxpayers,” Dyer wrote. “It opens the door for the [National Institutes of Health] to use this bill to research the remains of babies who were murdered in the womb.”
While it is technically true that there is not proactive language in the bill preventing “the funding of aborted fetal tissue,” that’s also true of nearly every bill Congress votes on. It also has very little to do with the legislation.
The bill is actually a reauthorization of two programs: The C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, a program named after a former Republican Congressman which helps match bone marrow and umbilical cord blood with people in need, and the National Cord Blood Inventory Program. That program also provides funding for the collection and storage of umbilical cord blood and bone marrow, both of which can be used to help treat diseases like cancer, anemia, and other immune system disorders.
Past versions of this bill have made it very clear that the measure does not provide money for embryonic stem cell research—which is related to eggs that were fertilized in a lab and is far more controversial in GOP circles.
But this bill is about “adult stem cells,” particularly the stem cells that are collected after a baby has been delivered and cut from the umbilical cord. (The blood is then drawn or drained from the umbilical cord.)
That blood has been used successfully thousands of times to help treat diseases ranging from cancer to osteoporosis, is credited with saving lives, and is typically fine with anti-abortion groups. Certainly, it was fine with the other 200 House Republicans who voted Thursday—almost all of whom consider themselves “pro-life.”
For Mitchell Lazarus, a retired lawyer, adult stem cell transfusions may have been the difference between life or death.
Six years ago, Lazarus, 78, was diagnosed with his second form of blood cancer— "this one, leukemia"—and he credits a transfusion with saving him. “I can’t imagine the rationale,” Lazarus said of Greene and Boebert voting no. “I don’t see any conceivable rationale, other than complete ignorance about what the process is.”
Lazarus told The Daily Beast there was “nothing conceivably morally objectionable about this procedure.”
But, according to Greene and Boebert, a bill helping to treat a number of blood diseases just isn’t worth the money.
“I’m always proud to vote NO to protect innocent lives, our hard earned tax dollars, and to put America First,” Greene said in her statement. “There should never be uncertainty about our tax dollars and the purchase of aborted baby body parts.”
Again, the uncertainty was one that Greene seemed to create in her own mind.
Boebert, for her part, spent the day toiling over a statement. A staffer in her office told The Daily Beast Friday morning that Boebert would be issuing one on a public forum and refused to send out a statement to individual reporters or her press list.
Eventually, a statement appeared in a CNN story about Greene and Boebert voting no.
“This bill added hundreds of millions of dollars to the national debt, while not receiving a CBO score or going through the committee process," Boebert told CNN.
For one, the bill didn’t add any money to the national debt. While it authorizes $31 million per year for the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program for the next five years—and $23 million per year for cord blood inventory program over that same period—the bill is not a spending measure. It will take an actual appropriations bill before actual money goes to the actual programs.
As she drafted her explanation Friday, Boebert seemed to establish a new criteria for legislation that she supports. “I’m not voting for bills that don’t go through committee and add hundreds of millions of dollars to the national debt,” Boebert tweeted Friday afternoon.
Again, the legislation doesn’t actually spend money, and the bills that avoid committee markups but make it to the House floor are typically only the least controversial ones—like measures to help people fight cancer.
A similar bill passed the House last Congress 414-0, and the Senate gave voice vote approval to the legislation, meaning it was so uncontroversial they didn’t even hold a recorded vote. But because the Senate approved a slightly different version, the legislation didn’t make it to the president’s desk.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), said in a statement to The Daily Beast that she was proud to see her legislation pass on an “overwhelmingly bipartisan basis.”
She added that these federal programs had provided “a second chance at life to over 100,000 patients in need of a bone marrow transplant.”
“Congress has consistently supported this life-saving cellular therapy program for over three decades, and it’s unfortunate that some Republicans put partisan politics over helping blood cancer and blood disease patients in need,” she said.