WASHINGTON – People looking for signs of bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill can focus on a different issue than judicial nominees — the debate over federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and the ethical questions about where to get stem cells.
The House plans to vote Tuesday on two different bills.
"There are Americans, right now, who are ravaged by illness, who will have a second, sustained chance at life because of what will happen on the floor of the House of Representatives tomorrow morning," Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., said Monday.
Most scientists and lawmakers agree that stem cells have the potential to create revolutionary treatments for a range of conditions from diabetes to sickle-cell anemia (search) to Parkinson's (search). Davis and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., have joined to sponsor a bill to encourage the use of umbilical cord blood (search) as the source of stem cells.
"Amazingly, we are on the threshold of systematically turning medical waste, umbilical cords and placentas, into medical miracles for huge numbers of very sick and terminally ill patients," Smith said.
The Smith-Davis bill would dedicate federal funding to encourage the collection of umbilical cord blood and establish a national clearinghouse to match it with patients who need it. The sponsors of a different bipartisan bill say they support the Smith proposal, but that embryonic stem cells (search) are even more promising.
"The universe is 110 million people who suffer from diseases that could be benefited ultimately by embryonic stem cell research," said Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del.
Castle and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., are leading 201 co-sponsors of a bill to allow stem cells to be gathered from surplus embryos at fertility clinics.
"What our bill does, it takes embryos, which are left over from a process and which will be thrown out, and it uses them to greater good. Many of our pro-life supporters believe this is exactly the right moral balance," DeGette said.
Even though the bill only would use embryos already destined for destruction, President Bush has said that he believes their use would cause the destruction of life, and federal funds should not be used for that. He has promised to veto the bill.
DeGette said that despite the veto threat, people from both parties and on both sides of the abortion question support the measure. The bill's sponsors also said they have 60 votes in the Senate for the same bill. Two-thirds of the legislature is needed to override a veto.
DeGette said the bipartisan cooperation in itself is something fairly rare these days.
"I want underscore the bipartisan nature of this bill, especially with what's going on on the other side of the Capitol today," DeGette said, referring to the Senate debate on judicial nominees.
Bush will explain his thinking on the issue once again on Tuesday as he appears in the Rose Garden with what are known as "snowflake babies" — those born from surplus embryos in fertility clinics that were adopted instead of destroyed.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Jim Angle.