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Many Hot Issues Up In Air In D.C.

President Bush followed Congress out of Washington after his first physical exam since taking office, vowing to announce his decision on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research before the House and Senate reconvene in September.

It was one of many red-hot issues the DC crowd left hanging as they left town.

Among others were patients' rights, faith-based funding of social organizations, drilling for oil in the Arctic and how to deal with global warming.

CBS News correspondent Eric Engberg reports that Mr. Bush is indicating he'll be taking the political gloves off to try to get his way with the Democratically-controlled Senate.

The president had a six-hour checkup before departing Saturday for a month-long vacation at his Crawford, Texas ranch. "I feel pretty good. I think you'll find I'm in pretty good shape," Mr. Bush told reporters as he emerged, waving and smiling, from Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Doctors at Bethesda pronounced the president in "outstanding health." In a written statement released at the White House, they said, "All data suggest that he will remain so for the duration of his presidency."

He and first lady Laura Bush are vacationing at their remote ranch through Labor Day, with several outings planned - in Colorado, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Pennsylvania - to keep the president and his agenda in the public eye.

In response to a question as he left Bethesda, Mr. Bush said that before Congress returns, he intends to decide whether the government will finance embryonic stem cell research. "There'll be a decision before Congress comes back," he said.

CBS News Correspondent Bill Plante reports the president is still consulting with authorities in science and ethics.

Either way, a lot of people are going to be unhappy. During the campaign, and as recently as May 18, Mr. Bush said he opposes such funding because it "involves destroying living human embryos."

It would therefore be a political slap in the face of America's social conservatives if he reversed course and permitted the funding.

American Life League President Judie Brown, for example, said that using human embryos to harvest stem cells amounts to killing one group to save another. Brown said that, even though Mr. Bush is anti-abortion rights, he would not be considered "pro-life" if he allowed federal money for such research.

Yet there is pressure to support research using frozen embryos. Researchers hope to find treatments for a host of diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's - and prominent Republicans, from Sen. Orrin Hatch and Bill Frist to former first lady Nancy Reagan, want the research funded.

In a further political wrinkle, Pope John Paul last month cautioned Mr. Bush - who has been courting Catholic voters - against the creation and destruction of embryos for such research.

On another medical matter, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee says the version of a patients' rights bll that just passed the Republican-controlled House won't be the final word on the issue. Terry McAuliffe called the House bill "imposter legislation" during his party's weekly radio address.

He promised that when Congress returns from its recess after Labor Day, Democrats will fight for a more extensive measure. "Thanks to an eleventh-hour, back-room deal, the House passed watered-down legislation, which benefits HMOs and stacks the deck against American consumers," McAuliffe said. "Their bill preserves HMOs' privileged legal status as the only class of people other than foreign diplomats that are shielded from lawsuits."

The Senate has already passed its own patients' rights bill and lawmakers will have to go into conference to draft a final version.

Mr. Bush has threatened to veto the Democratic legislation, arguing it would encourage frivolous lawsuits that would drive up the cost of insurance and prompt some employers to drop or reduce coverage.

Another bone of contention is the president's energy plan. It faces stiff opposition in the Senate, where many oppose drilling for oil in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The energy package passed in the House after 12 hours of debate. Thirty-eight Democrats voted with Republicans to defeat attempts to block drilling in the Arctic refuge. The same coalition blocked efforts to require much tougher fuel efficiency requirements for gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles.

The Senate Energy Committee has started mulling what's expected to be a broad bill focusing more heavily than the House measure on boosting conservation and renewable energy sources and fixing the precarious electricity distribution systems in an era of competition.

"Destroying the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a complete political nonstarter in the Senate," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who has vowed to block any drilling provision with a filibuster if necessary.

Meanwhile two senators say the voluntary steps favored by Mr. Bush to control greenhouse gases to deal with global warming won't work -- so they're pushing for mandatory limits.

Joseph Lieberman (D, Ct.) and John McCain (R, Az.) say they'll introduce legislation to curb the gases. Carbon dioxide and other emissions are believed to be changing the earth's climate.

The bill would limit the amount of gases that can be emitted nationwide. It would also set ceilings for specific economic sectors such as power plants and transportation. Companies that exceed the limits could purchase credits from those with lower emissions.

The senators say the action is needed so American businesses won't be left out as other countries begin trading emission credits under the Kyoto climate agreement. The Bush administration has rejected the Kyoto accord, saying it would hurt the U-S economy.

Other issues on the table in Washington include Mr. Bush's education plan and his faith-based initiative.

The education bill is still under construction. Sente and House negotiators have begun to work out differences between their two versions of the legislation. The sides are billions of dollars apart.

The president's plan to let religious charities bid for a wide range of government social service contracts — already passed by the House — is a priority for the White House but not for the Democratically controlled Senate. Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D, S.D.), has said the bill might not come up for a vote this year.

Written By BRIAN DAKSS © MMI, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters Limited contributed to this report

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