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Facing veto, Congress again backs bill to ease stem cell study limits

Legislation lacks votes for override

WASHINGTON -- The Democratic-controlled Congress passed legislation yesterday to loosen restraints on federally funded embryonic stem cell research, but the bill's supporters lacked the votes needed to override President Bush's threatened veto.

The 247-176 House vote marked the second time in recent weeks that Democratic leaders confronted Bush over an issue on which they have widespread public support, following a veto struggle over a proposed troop withdrawal timetable from Iraq.

This time the controversy is at the uneasy intersection of medical research and politics, involving a type of cell the National Institutes of Health says might serve as "a sort of repair system for the body."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, appealed to Bush moments before the bill passed to sheath his "cruel veto pen" and sign legislation that she said could help "save lives, find cures, and give hope to those suffering."

But the president responded quickly with a written statement that accused majority Democrats of recycling an old measure he vetoed a year ago.

Under the bill, "American taxpayers would for the first time in our history be compelled to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos.

Crossing that line would be a grave mistake," he said in a statement issued in Germany, where a summit of world leaders is being held .

The bill drew the support of 210 House Democrats and 37 Republicans.

Despite the bipartisanship, the total was 35 votes fewer than needed to override a veto.

The Senate cleared the bill several weeks ago by a margin that was one vote short of the two-thirds needed to overcome Bush's objections.

There was no suspense about the outcome in the House, although personal experience punctuated yesterday's hour long debate to an unusual degree.

Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, the bill's chief Democratic supporter, spoke of her daughter's struggle with juvenile diabetes.

"As you can imagine, I am anxious about the idea of my child having to manage such a serious condition all by herself" once she goes to college, she said. "I share this anxiety with many parents of affected children."

Moments later, Representative James R. Langevin, Democrat of Rhode Island, who has been paralyzed since a gun accident severed his spinal cord several years ago, addressed the House from his motorized wheelchair.

An opponent of abortion, Langevin said, "My education on this issue has filled me with tremendous hope, not only that stem cell research might one day lead to a cure for spinal cord injuries, but that one day . . . families will no longer watch in agony as a loved one with Parkinson's or Alzheimer's gradually declines."

Opponents of the measure said they, too, support medical research, but insisted the use of embryonic stem cells was the wrong approach on moral grounds -- and possibly not the most promising one scientifically.

"You're talking about spare embryos now, but if it ever did work . . . it would require the killing of millions of embryos," said Representative Christopher H. Smith, Republican of New Jersey.

He said a recent report by the US Catholic Conference listed numerous breakthroughs involving medical research conducted with adult stem cells, umbilical cord blood, and amniotic fluid, none of which involve the destruction of a human embryo.