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Nancy Reagan helps revive embryonic stem cell bill

WASHINGTON -- Urged anew by former first lady Nancy Reagan, Senate majority leader Bill Frist yesterday revived a bill to expand funding for embryonic stem cell research after conservatives who had blocked it withdrew their objections.

``It's my intention now that we've gotten over this first hurdle that we will (vote on the bill) in the not too distant future," Frist said as he brought the three-bill package to the floor.

``We'll do this before we get out of here for the October break?" asked Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

``We will," replied Frist, Republican of Tennessee.

The announcement marked a major advance for a bill -- one supported by about 70 percent of Americans -- that had been stalled in the Senate since the House passed it in May 2005. Frist was still untangling objections from at least two senators who blocked the bill up to a few moments before he brought the package to the floor, according to officials close to the talks .

The bill is expected to pass. But for all the progress, President Bush's veto threat remained, said White House spokesman Ken Lisaius.

The bill would permit the government to pay for human embryonic stem cell research, a science that carries promise in the hunt for cures to diseases that afflict millions of people.

Social conservatives liken the research to abortion because the process of extracting stem cells from a days-old embryo results in its death. Bush, who believes the practice is immoral, has threatened to veto the legislation.

Two officials said Reagan, whose behind-the-scenes advocacy helped the bill win House passage, spoke with Frist last week and urged him to advance it.

Her husband, President Ronald Reagan, died in 2004 after suffering from Alzheimer's disease . Some scientists say stem cell research could help relieve the effects of Alzheimer's or possibly lead to a cure.

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