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Facing veto threat, senators drop effort to ease Bush restrictions on stem cell research

Updated:

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senators who want to ease the restrictions President Bush has clamped on stem cell research are backing away from a veto showdown with him over the contentious issue.

Advocates of using some embryos for the promising research dropped the language from a huge spending bill on Thursday in the face of a White House veto threat. In return, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., an abortion foe, dropped his plans to offer amendments that would have banned human cloning and put tight strictures on stem cell research.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a leader of the drive to make some embryos available for stem cell research, said that if he pushes the bill, ``I don't know how long it will take to debate'' because of Brownback's amendments.

Stem cells can develop into any type of human tissue. Scientists hope to use them someday to treat Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other diseases.

The maneuvering came as the Senate debated a $123.1 billion measure financing labor, health and education programs for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. That bill, nearly $14 billion larger than last year's, would provide big increases in aid to local school districts and other education programs, and for biomedical research by the National Institutes of Health.

Congress made progress on other spending measures as well on Thursday:

_Both chambers approved a $24.6 billion compromise measure financing federal energy and water programs that would ban oil and gas drilling under the Great Lakes. The measure was approved 399-29 by the House, 96-2 by the Senate.

_Lawmakers completed a bill providing almost $3 billion to finance Congress' own operations this year, $242 million more than last year. The House roll call was 374-52, while the Senate used a voice vote.

_The Senate gave final congressional approval to a $32.8 billion measure financing the Treasury Department and several smaller agencies by 83-15. The bill, approved Wednesday by the House, increases spending for the Internal Revenue Service and Customs Service but drops earlier House-passed language that would have eased travel restrictions to Cuba.

The Treasury measure also opens the door for lawmakers to give themselves a $4,900 pay raise next year to $150,000. Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., has said he will try blocking the salary increase later, but his move is considered a long shot.

In August, Bush issued a long-awaited policy that restricts stem cell research to the 64 stem cell lines that administration officials said already exist. The president had hoped his plan provided a middle-of-the-road solution to the issue, but it has drawn criticism from both sides in the abortion debate.

Specter's stem cell language would have allowed couples to donate unused embryos from fertility clinics if those embryos would otherwise have been destroyed.

For years, the Clinton administration had said that as long as private dollars paid for the extraction of the stem cells, federal money could be used for research.
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