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Obama signs 'death gratuity' bill into law

President Barack Obama has signed into law a bill that would restore funding for emergency payments to the families of deceased soldiers as the government shutdown continues.

Obama had previously approved what the White House called a “creative” workaround for the problem that would have provided the benefits through Fisher House, a non-profit that helps military families. 

Fisher House stepped into the breach after NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell first reported that the families of service members killed in combat since the shutdown began had not received the $100,000 “death gratuity” that covers funeral expenses and various costs before other survivors benefits kick in.

But Senate lawmakers and the White House had come under intense public pressure to pass legislation to keep the money flowing rather than let an outside organization continue the funding.

The House passed such legislation with great fanfare on Wednesday, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated that the Fisher House partnership had already solved the problem and declined to put the legislation up for a vote in the upper chamber.

But on Thursday, the Senate quietly and unanimously approved it after Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, asked to bring it up for a vote. Reid called the point "moot" but did not object to its passage. 

The president's signature on the legislation breaks a pattern of the past week, when Democrats have repeatedly said they would not green-light House-passed bills to fund small and popular segments of the government like funding for national parks, Head Start and veterans’ benefits. Democrats say that those “piecemeal” measures fail to solve the larger problems of the ongoing shutdown.