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Stem cell bill passes House but faces veto

WASHINGTON - The House voted to expand government-financed embryonic stem cell research Thursday, but for the second time in two years lawmakers were unable to muster enough votes to overcome a promised presidential veto.

Still, the 253-174 vote was a high watermark in the stem cell debate, drawing advocates closer to the two-thirds vote threshold needed to override President Bush's objections.

With stem cells offering hope for major health care cures, lawmakers on both sides of the issue punctuated the debate with poignant personal stories and clashed over the ethics of the science.

Addressing "those who do not have the will to stand up against a presidential veto," freshman Rep. Zach Space, D-Ohio, described his 16-year-old son's battle against juvenile diabetes and wondered aloud what awaited him as an adult.

"This research represents the only meaningful hope for a cure in my son's lifetime," Space said.

Embryonic stem cells hold the promise of medical breakthroughs because they have the ability to become any tissue in the body. But the research typically involves the destruction of frozen embryos created for in vitro fertilization, a step that stirs passions over the beginning of life.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., blind in one eye, said she would benefit from stem cell science to replace a detached retina. But she said the federal government should emphasize research into adult stem cells, not those derived from embryos.

"Killing human life does not have to be accomplished to create efficacious treatment for people and diseases," she said.

The legislation would lift Bush's 2001 ban on the use of federal dollars spent on deriving new stem cells from fertilized embryos.

Bush vetoed similar legislation last year and actor Michael J. Fox elevated the issue into prominence with political ads during last fall's congressional elections. Democrats credit that issue, among others, for helping them drive Republicans from power in Congress.

Bush threatens drug bill veto

President Bush vowed Thursday to veto Democratic-drafted legislation requiring the government to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices under Medicare.

The House is to debate and vote today on the legislation, which is one of a handful of priority items for Democrats who gained control of Congress in last fall's elections.

"Government interference impedes competition, limits access to lifesaving drugs, reduces convenience for beneficiaries and ultimately increases costs to taxpayers, beneficiaries and all American citizens alike," the administration said in a written statement.

It said that competition already "is reducing prices to seniors, providing a wide range of choices and leading to a more productive environment for the development of new drugs."

Democrats shot back quickly.

"Evidently, the president is more concerned with protecting pharmaceutical company profits than American seniors," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., a member of the House Democratic leadership.

The Associated Press

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