In a 241-155 vote, lawmakers decided to ban all cloning even as some urged for an exception so researchers can continue to work toward cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes.
Others lawmakers maintained that all human cloning research must be banned because a cloned embryo is a human even before implantation in a womb, and to destroy it for research would be immoral.
"We cannot afford to treat the issue of human embryo cloning lightly," said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., co-author of a complete ban with Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla. "The human race is not open to experimentation at any level, even the molecular level."
Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., said anything other than a total ban "would license the most ghoulish and dangerous enterprise in human history."
"Congress must act now," Myrick said. "We can no longer wait for another biotech company to claim they have cloned children."
But Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., argued that the bill would "close the door to important research."
"I can't see how it is moral to look in the eyes of someone with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's and say we're going to stand in the way," McGovern said.
The bill would ban all human cloning for reproduction or research and impose a $1 million fine and up to a 10-year prison sentence for violators. The measure passed the House 265-162 during the last legislative session but stalled in the Senate.
Opponents of the bill offered an alternative that would allow research, but it failed in a 231-174 vote.
"This is a turning point in our history," said Rep. James Greenwood, R-Pa., a sponsor of the alternative measure. "This is a question about whether or not we are going to go forward with the most promising medicine of our time."
The Bush administration said in a statement that it was "unequivocally opposed to the cloning of human beings either for reproduction or for research."
"The president urges the House to pass it so it can be considered by the Senate," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said before the vote.
Still, the measure is expected to have an uphill battle in the Senate, where Republicans lack the 60 votes necessary to end debate and force a vote.
In cloning, genes from an adult cell are implanted into a human egg from which all the genetic material has been removed. The egg is then cultured into an embryo that, if implanted in a womb, would produce an offspring that would be a genetic duplicate of the cell donor.
Supporters of research hope that eventually stem cells can be culled from cloned embryos. The hope is that those stem cells would be genetic matches capable of being transplanted into patients whose cells are damaged by disease.
Lawmakers renewed the effort to pass a cloning ban after a company's claim last year to have cloned the first human baby. Clonaid's claims were never verified, but it was enough to spur Congress to action.
"Although the cloning announcement appears to be a hoax, there are a growing number of individuals who claim they can and will clone a human being," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. "In light of these announcements, it is imperative that Congress acts."
By Janelle Carter