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At long last, the Senate is scheduled to decide this afternoon whether to unleash federally financed scientists to explore the full potential of embryonic stem cells.

But today's vote came at the price of a shrewdly packaged arrangement. It allows lawmakers to vote against the key measure and yet, by supporting meaningless companion measures, still claim to have responded to the appeals of millions of Americans whose ailments and disabilities might be relieved or even cured by the research.

They shouldn't be allowed to get away with it, nor should President Bush, who is expected to exercise the first veto of his almost six-year tenure to shatter the hopes of those the research might help.

The only bill in the Senate's package of three that matters would ease Mr. Bush's 2001 restrictions on using federal funds for research on embryonic stem cells, which are thought to have the capacity to regenerate any type of cell in the human body. The measure, approved a year ago by the House, would make federal money available for research on embryos produced by in vitro fertilization that would otherwise be discarded.

To give opponents of that proposal stem cell legislation they could support, two other measures were included in the package. One would encourage research under way on the development of other cells with the same properties as embryonic stem cells; the other would prohibit research on tissue from a pregnancy created for that purpose. Neither bill would have any practical effect on the status quo other than to provide political cover.

At a time when Johns Hopkins researchers are restoring movement to paralyzed rats using embryonic stem cells, those who would impede similar research with human tissue should cast their vote and account for it. The two companion measures are nothing but a smokescreen that everyone can see through.

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