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News Briefs, part 1

Visa Program Due to Expire, Threatening to Strand Visitors

The Washington Post

An international travel provision that has eased the passage of more than 9 million tourists and business travelers a year into the United States by waiving visa requirements is due to expire Friday, threatening to leave thousands of visitors stranded.

The visa waiver program - which is open to 20 countries in Western Europe as well as Japan and New Zealand, with reciprocal waivers for Americans going to those countries - has been used by more than 31 million people since it was started eight years ago.

Without the provision, which has saved the government staffing and administrative costs, the result at international airports is "going to be a huge mess" according to a State Department spokesman.

Despite overwhelming congressional support for an extension, it is part of a larger bill called the Technical Corrections Act that has been stalled in the Senate by a number of amendments. Sen. Hank Brown, R-Colo., introduced measures that would allow the president of Taiwan a visa to visit the United States and open up trade in defense and telecommunications technology with newly democratic Eastern European countries.

Panel to Make Recommendations On Controversial Fetal Tests

The Washington Post

A government advisory panel is scheduled to announce recommendations Tuesday on what kinds of federally funded experimentation should be permitted on human embryos, including the controversial question of whether scientists should be allowed to create some test-tube embryos solely for the purpose of research.

Balancing potential scientific benefits and ethical considerations has been a delicate process for the 19 members of the Human Embryo Research Panel of the National Institutes of Health. Sources who have seen the panel's report said it will recommend that the government pay for some kinds of embryo research - including allowing the creation of human embryos for research purposes - while expressly rejecting others such as the creation of chimeras, or human-animal hybrids.

Whatever the panel's conclusions, the recommendations are likely to deepen a bitter ideological dispute. Many scientists maintain that overly restrictive guidelines on embryo research would prevent important discoveries in the study of in vitro fertilization, birth defects, infertility and cancer.

VA Treatment for Gulf War Families Wins Approval from Senate Panel

The Washington Post

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, attempting to resolve an impasse over compensation for ailing military personnel who served in the Persian Gulf war, has approved legislation allowing veterans' dependents to receive free medical examinations at veterans hospitals. The Senate panel added the provision to legislation that reaffirms the committee's position that the Department of Veterans Affairs can compensate gulf veterans without additional legislation. The Clinton administration opposes the measure.

Another provision in the Senate bill would allow the administration to cut only 10,000 people from the VA's payroll in the next five years - not the 27,000 that Clinton had proposed. The House has rejected any cuts to VA health care personnel.

The dependents' provision is unprecedented and certain to be controversial.

Veterans groups historically have resisted any proposal that would allow non-veterans to receive treatment in VA-run facilities.

Opposition by veterans groups killed a small Bush administration pilot program to treat the rural poor at two VA hospitals. The veterans lobby has complained to Congress that such programs would undermine the government's commitment to veterans.