Sen. Arlen Specter has blinked again. After the Senate leadership promised him a vote on free-standing stem cell legislation next year, Specter last week removed contentious language from the HHS spending bill that could have opened the door for federal funding of embryonic stem cell derivation.

Specter (R-Penn.) has pursued the issue doggedly, if not successfully. Since 1998, he has held nine hearings with 21 hours of testimony on stem cells. In 1999, Specter agreed to a request from then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) to withdraw a stem cell amendment from the HHS spending bill in exchange for a commitment to hold a debate and vote on the proposal, a commitment that Lott did not honor. This time