Congress averted a partial federal shutdown on Thursday as the Senate voted to pass a three week extension already approved by the House that gives lawmakers time to negotiate a long term deal.

The Senate easily passed the joint resolution - H.J. 48 Additional Continuing Appropriations Amendments, 2011 – by a vote of 87 to 13. The House earlier passed the joint resolution with a vote of 271 to 158. It will cut $6 billion in spending in the next 3 weeks. Congress had until Friday, March 18 to pass an extension.

“Today’s vote starts the clock,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid after the vote. “This is the second time we have extended the deadline for passing a long-term plan that cuts spending and keeps our government running.”

There were 9 dissenting Republicans, three Democrats and one independent. House Majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, said on Tuesday that he was “glad” to see the Senate pass the bill, noting the resolution brings cuts for the remainder of the year to $10 billion in the past 5 weeks. Congress has been in its current session since January 6.

The latest stopgap measure is part of the larger debate ahead. The House of Representatives, led by Republicans, has passed a bill that would cut $61 billion in cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year compared to the 2010 budget.

The Senate rejected it, setting the stage for a pair of short term resolutions.

“Now that we’ve put more time on the clock, I again implore the President and Senate Democrats to give us an offer that can get majority support in the Senate to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year that includes serious spending cuts,” he said.

The Senate shot down the bill, setting the stage for a pair of short term resolutions.

Reid said on Thursday that Democrats were looking to make “smart cuts.” “Democrats have proved we are committed to reducing spending by bringing $51 billion in smart cuts to the table. And we are open to additional cuts that make sense.”