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U.S. Senate unexpectedly approves military death benefits bill

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CNN: The Senate unexpectedly approved House-passed legislation on Thursday to restore military death benefits that were cut due to the government shutdown.

The move came at the insistence of Republican senators who said they wanted a legislative fix to fund the benefits despite a plan finalized by the Obama administration Wednesday to have a private charity–Fisher House–cover the cost of the benefits until the government shutdown is resolved.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the push by Republicans was “unnecessary” because benefits were now flowing, but he said he would not block a unanimous consent agreement proposed by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Senate Republican.

“This issue is largely moot. It’s clear the action on this legislation is just for show,” Reid said.

Until now, Senate Democrats had refused to take up a series of individual bills the GOP-led House passed to reopen parts of the government, such as the National Institutes of Health and the Veterans Administration. Outside of approving one bill to provide pay for the military, Democrats have insisted Republicans agree to reopen the entire government as opposed to doing it piecemeal.

A spokesman for Reid wouldn’t say specifically why the Democratic leader agreed to pass this bill but he pointed to Reid’s comments that the push by Republicans was for “show.”

Cornyn said he was concerned about legal and other issues that might arise from the special contract the Pentagon made with Fisher House and wanted the fix in law. He said he hopes the decision by Democrats “paves the way” to take up “some other narrow bills until we can come together on a larger bill.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the legislation wasn’t needed because of the Fisher House arrangement, but he wouldn’t say directly whether the president would sign or veto the bill.

“The legislation is not necessary. Our view has been that this piecemeal funding is, again, a gimmick,” said Carney.

Spouses and families of service members who die get $100,000 as well as other benefits, such as the cost of burial, travel, and housing