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Specter: Senate stem cell override likely

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Arlen Specter
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Arlen Specter said Sunday he believes the Senate has enough votes to override a threatened presidential veto of legislation easing restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Fellow Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, however, vowed to keep the bill from reaching the Senate floor. Both appeared on ABC's "This Week."

"I've been taught a lot of lessons from the Democrats lately, so I've got some ideas on how one can get this done," Brownback said. "And I think it's important that we move forward."

The bill would allow researchers to use some 400,000 embryos that were created for in vitro fertilization and would likely otherwise be discarded.

President Bush opposes that and held a news conference last week to promote adopting the embryos, which he called "snowflake babies."

The House passed the bill last week with 50 Republicans -- short of a veto-proof vote. The Senate is slated to take up the measure this week.

Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said 58 senators signed a letter to Bush recently asking him to drop his opposition.

"And there are 20 more in the wings who didn't want to put their names on the letter, who I think would vote to override a veto," said the Pennsylvania Republican.

Specter also predicted that if a march on Washington in favor of the bill were to be held, it would "turn a lot of people in the Congress who will look to see what their constituents are demanding."

The two Republicans differed sharply on their views of the status of frozen embryos.

Brownback, also a member of the Judiciary Committee, questioned "what it does to the culture of life" when government approves performing research on the embryos, which he considers "young human life."

Specter shot back, asking what it does "to the culture of life when you let people die because there are medical research tools which could keep them alive?"

"I hate to personalize this, but when I look back on 1970, and President Nixon declared war on cancer, if that war had been adequately funded like the rest of our wars, I might not have Hodgkin's lymphoma cancer today," Specter said.

Specter said he and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, set up the program for adopting the embryos last year and it has resulted in 100 adoptions.

"If we could create 400,000 snowflakes, if we could have all of these embryos adopted, I would be the first one not to use them to save somebody else's life, if it could create a newborn child," Specter said.

Brownback suggested limiting the number of in vitro fertilizations allowed and pushed the use of adult stem cells or umbilical cord blood cells -- which many scientists say are useful but not as useful as the more flexible embryonic stem cells.

He also argued repeatedly during the ABC program that embryos are "the youngest of human life" and at one point asked Specter and host George Stephanopoulos when their lives began.

Specter replied that he was "a lot more concerned, at this point, about when my life is going to end," to which Brownback responded that he prays for the Pennsylvanian and asked again when life starts.

"It certainly doesn't start in a laboratory dish," Specter replied. "This potential for life on these embryonic stem cells cannot begin to occur unless it's implanted back in a woman. We know for sure, life does not start in a laboratory dish."

Brownback was not persuaded, however, saying that the embryos are "sacred" and "should be treated as such."

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