Senate Moves Stimulus Bill Forward

By a vote of 61 to 36, the Senate this afternoon voted to end debate on the $827 billion stimulus passage backed by the Obama administration, clearing the way for the bill to be passed tomorrow.

Senate backers of the bill needed 60 votes to close debate and keep Republican opponents from filibustering. Three Republicans – Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Arlin Specter of Pennsylvania – joined Democrats in backing the bill.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who is fighting a malignant brain tumor, returned to Washington for the vote, telling reporters, "it's time that we take action now."

Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire did not vote on the bill, CBS News Capitol Hill producer John Nolen reports.

After the bill passes, Senate leaders will meet with their House counterparts to reconcile the versions of the bill passed by each chamber.

That will be no simple process, as the two chambers passed significantly different versions of the stimulus package. Though both bills include items called for by the president – including tax cuts for low-income workers and funding for expanded unemployment benefits and health care – the Senate version is more focused on tax cuts and offers less in the way of spending than the bill that came out of the House.

That's largely because while the House could pass the legislation with just the backing of Democrats – and, indeed, no House Republicans supported the bill – Senate Democrats needed to win over Republican moderates to do so.

On Friday, an agreement was reached to cut about $100 billion from the Senate version of the bill. That was enough to convince Snowe, Collins and Specter to back it.

Democrats hope to have the bill finished in time for President Obama to sign it on President's Day. Majority Leader Harry Reid said today he believed negotiations between the House and Senate could easily be finished by the end of this week.

Republicans have been harshly critical of the legislation. On Sunday, former GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, appearing on CBS' Face The Nation, called it "generation theft."

"I know America needs a stimulus," McCain said, "but this is not it."