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House votes to ban human cloning

Associated Press

   WASHINGTON— The House voted to ban all cloning of human embryos Tuesday night, casting Congress' first votes on the divisive ethical issue after a day of emotional debate on science, morality and the definition of life.

   The bill passed by 265-162, capping a day in which lawmakers also said no to even limited human cloning for research into possible cures for Alzheimer's, Lou Gehrig's and other fatal or disabling diseases.

   "This House should not be giving the green light to mad scientists to tinker with the gift of life," said Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla. "Cloning is an insult to humanity. It is science gone crazy."

   A similar ban has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. And Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said Tuesday he was "opposed to the effort to clone under virtually any circumstances."

   The vote to ban any human cloning occurred shortly after the House, by 249-178, rejected an amendment that would have allowed the limited creation of cloned embryos dedicated solely to research.

   Reps. Jim Greenwood, R-Pa., and Peter Deutsch, D-Fla., said their alternative to permit cloning for research could point the way to cures for terrible diseases.

   "Why would we condemn the world and future generations not to have this miracle?" Greenwood said. "Some would say once you put Mr. Greenwood's cheek cell in and it divides, it becomes a soul."

   Lawmakers spent much of the day's debate plunging into the ethics of biotechnology.

   House members agreed on the general principle that they do not want the human species cloned, the technique that allowed scientists to create Dolly the sheep in 1997.

   The disagreement was over whether scientists should be able to clone human embryos and then use them in their search for cures to diseases.

   From the embryos, scientists could gather valuable stem cells — the building blocks for all human tissue. President Bush is now deciding whether to permit federal funds for medical research on stem cells pulled from human embryos.

   The matter has been hotly contested because the most versatile stem cells are derived from embryos discarded at fertility clinics. Using them for research is opposed by abortion foes.

   "There are ways for us to get these answers without messing with cloning," Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., supporting the total ban.

   Cloned embryos would represent a new frontier, allowing scientists to produce stem cells that would be a perfect match to a person's DNA. Such stem cells could then be cultivated to produce healthy tissue for people with debilitating diseases, scientists hope

   But even a cloned embryo is a human being, opponents argued, saying Greenwood's bill would sanction their destruction.

   The Food and Drug Administration claims the authority to regulate cloning, but there is no law governing it.

   "We are sailing into uncharted waters," Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said.

   "Our decision here today could have consequences for years to come."

   In a statement Monday, the Bush administration said it "unequivocally is opposed to the cloning of human beings either for reproduction or for research. The moral and ethical issues posed by human cloning are profound and cannot be ignored in the quest for scientific discovery."

   The use of stem cells from human embryos for research has divided even the most staunch anti-abortion Republicans. In recent weeks, some, such as Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, have announced their support for stem cell research.

   Recently during Bush's trip to Europe, Pope John Paul II urged him to reject research with human embryo stem cells.      


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GOP defectors courted at patients' bill deal

Associated Press

   WASHINGTON— Turning up the pressure, President Bush urged rebellious Republican Rep. Charles Norwood on Tuesday to "shake the hand of accommodation that I have put out" on patients' rights legislation.

   "We don't have a specific deal yet ... but we're making progress," Bush told reporters in the Oval Office, with a vote on the politically potent issue as close as a day or two away on the House floor.

   Norwood's spokesman, John Stone, said he welcomed Bush's remarks as being "very conducive toward reaching a bipartisan compromise bill that everyone and the White House can support."

   The president made his comments as White House officials reported narrowing their differences with Norwood, R-Ga., and Democrats on the issue of lawsuits against companies that finance and administer the insurance plans they offer their workers.

   Democrats said the two sides remain far apart on other issues that Bush cited in a veto letter issued in June. Even so, said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., "It's a response to the president's very legitimate concerns and it ought to be the basis of a sound compromise."

   Ironically, after a struggle of several years, there is relatively little disagreement in Congress over the protections to be offered to patients in the legislation. All individuals with insurance would receive new protections, such as the right to emergency room care, access to specialists, minimum hospital stays for mastectomies and access to government-run clinical trials.

   Norwood has functioned in recent days as a shuttle negotiator between the White House and his own group of supporters of legislation with strong Democratic support. Stone said discussions were "ongoing at a pretty rapid pace."

   Bush has threatened to veto the patients' rights legislation, saying it would open the floodgates to lawsuits.

   He and other Republicans support an alternative that would permit fewer lawsuits, and place caps on damages that HMOs could be forced to pay to patients who sue successfully over delayed or denied care.

   Several Republicans expressed optimism during the day they could reach an agreement with Norwood, thus clearing the way to passage of a compromise bill, but said they doubted that Kennedy and other Democrats would be willing to make concessions. These Republican officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said if Norwood stuck with the Democrats, they hoped to be able to defeat him and them in a showdown on the floor on the lawsuit issue.

   It was the second time in as many days that Bush sought to nudge Norwood, a Georgia dentist before entering politics, toward a compromise. On Tuesday, he did so privately, telephoning Norwood for a conversation in which GOP sources said he appealed explicitly to the lawmaker's party loyalty.

   That was followed by a late-night discussion at the White House involving aides to Norwood and the administration, and a follow-up session in the morning in which Norwood met with Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., Kennedy, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., and other supporters of his bill.

   They agreed to offer a concession to the White House under which companies that finance and administer their own plans could only be sued in federal court. Officials say that provision would cover firms with roughly six or seven percent of the nation's insured workforce.

   Other issues that the White House and Republicans have been seeking were not addressed by the proposal. In his formal veto letter issued in June, Bush listed concerns about several other areas, including steps to rein in class action lawsuits, place caps on damage awards and allow trial lawyers to file suits in state courts.

   Asked what he was offering to Norwood in the discussions, Bush said, "I'm offering to sign a bill and not veto it, and that's pretty powerful incentive for someone to try and come up with an agreement."

   Renewing a veto threat he has made before, Bush said he "will not sign a bill that I think will end up tossing people out of health insurance."

   He said that Norwood had "brought some ideas right here in the Oval Office" and "felt like he needed to go back and discuss them with some of the bill sponsors. ... I'm hopeful that he will shake the hand of accommodation that I put out for him. And I believe there's room for compromise, and I'm more than willing to try and do so with him."            

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Bush takes cautious stance on election overhaul issues

Associated Press

   WASHINGTON — President Bush, who won the White House in a fiercely fought recount of Florida ballots, cautiously endorsed an election-reform report that seeks to make Election Day a federal holiday, restore voting rights to felons and curb the media's rush to project winners.

   Bush embraced only the general principles of the 105-page study headed by former Presidents Ford and Carter. His press secretary, casting the president as a reformer, voiced support for several, but not all, of the panel's recommendations.

   "Our democracy is really an inspiration to the world. Yet, the work of improving it is never finished," Bush said Tuesday in a Rose Garden ceremony, a beaming Carter at his side.

   Neither man mentioned Carter's recent criticism of the president.

   With some Democrats still questioning his tactics in the 36-day recount campaign, Bush has viewed the Carter-Ford report as an opportunity to show voters that he is committed to fair elections and reform. At the same time, senior Republicans privately fret that some of the changes would help increase turnout of traditionally Democratic voters.

   Democrats questioned his commitment.

   "As President Bush receives the commission's report, we hope he will finally provide real leadership and support for comprehensive election reform legislation," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt in a joint release.

   House Speaker Dennis Hastert applauded the commission and Bush for providing Congress "commonsense principles regarding election reform."

   The 19-member commission asked Congress to make Election Day a federal holiday, perhaps by combining it with Veterans Day, and to adopt legislation simplifying absentee voting from overseas. Lawyers for Bush and Democrat Al Gore had wrangled over ballots from U.S. troops stationed abroad.

   Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said the panel made a good argument for the national holiday, but the president wanted to consult first with veterans.

   Indeed, the proposal sparked immediate protests from veterans groups and some members of Congress.

   "Election Day is Election Day. Veterans Day is Veterans Day," said Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who chairs the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

   Privately, GOP strategists say an Election Day holiday would benefit Democrats in some states by giving union members more time to turn out voters. Bush's strategists have cited an Election Day holiday given to autoworkers in Michigan as one reason for Gore's victory in the battleground state.

   Carter, who recently said he found fault in almost everything Bush has done, chatted privately with the president before the ceremony. Carter, in a later interview with CNN, said his meeting with Bush was "very harmonious."

   Asked how much of the commission's recommendations Congress would enact, Carter told CNN, "I think all of it. There has already been intense bipartisan debate on each of these major issues. And President Bush this morning in effect endorsed the entire report."

   In the Rose Garden, Bush shook Carter's hand and patted him on the back.

   "I do feel at home here," Carter said.

   Former House GOP leader Bob Michel stood in for Ford, who had a scheduling conflict.

   In the report, states were asked to restore voting rights to convicted felons who have served full sentences. Bush backs the provision, aides said, noting that he signed legislation as governor of Texas moving up voting eligibility for felons.

   The panel asked Congress to give states $1 billion to $2 billion in matching money to help update their election systems. To qualify, states would be expected to take several steps, including:

   — Allow voters to correct ballot errors and make voting more accessible to the disabled.

   — Adopt standards that define what constitutes a vote, a reference to the fight over dimpled chads and other ballot oddities in Florida.

   — Permit voters to cast ballots even if their registration is in question, setting aside the "provisional ballots" until after the election.

   Many GOP strategists say they believe that Democratic voters are more likely than Republicans to cast improper ballots, thus Democratic politicians would benefit if ballot rules are loosened.

   Bush did not take a position on the state proposals, though aides said he backs the provisional voting concept and other proposals that increase turnout.

   A minority of the panel members wanted the report to go further and mandate standards for better elections — a step aides said Bush would have opposed.

   The commission urged news organizations to refrain from projecting election winners until after polling places are closed in all 48 contiguous states. If they refuse, Congress should prohibit government agencies from disclosing vote totals until the voting is done, the commission said.

   Media organizations declared Gore the winner of Florida, only to reverse themselves later Election Night. Bush praised the panel for addressing "the overeagerness of the media."      

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