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House passes bill restoring benefits to fallen soldiers' families

The House of Representatives has unanimously passed legislation that would assure that families of fallen soldiers are given the death gratuity benefits they were promised, but not given, because of the government shutdown.

The vote was 425-0. 

The legislation provides one way that the "death gratuities" designed to assist the families of deceased soldiers with funeral and travel costs can be restored as the government shutdown drags on. 

The White House also says it has directed its lawyers to work with the Office of Management and Budget and the Pentagon to find a solution outside of legislative action. 

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that a solution is expected by the end of Wednesday. 

"The president expects this to be fixed today," he said. 

The vote in the House could start a fast-track process to solve the payment issue, although it's not clear whether the legislation or executive branch action will be the ultimate fix for the problem. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that the benefits will be restored "without any question." 

Reid said that the Senate will "see what the House does" and that the White House and the Pentagon are also working together to see if they can "do something about" the issue as well. 

The bill, titled the Honoring the Families of Fallen Soldiers Act, was quickly drafted Tuesday in the wake of a series of NBC News reports over the past two days detailing the military’s delay of the $100,000 “death gratuities” for the families of fallen soldiers.

The families of soldiers killed since the government shutdown began are at Dover Air Force base to pick up their loved ones' remains, but still won't be receiving the emergency death benefits from the Pentagon. Now, private charities are stepping in to fill in the gap. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

Many members of Congress were surprised by reports that families of fallen soldiers had not been receiving the death gratuity benefit considering they had passed legislation, which President Obama signed into law the night before the shutdown began, that authorized "pay and allowances" to be distributed to troops and their families during the shutdown.  Some said the decision to not distribute these benefits was a misinterpretation of that law by the Pentagon.

On Friday, Oct. 4, Rep Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), the Chairman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the Armed Service Committee, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel requesting an explanation for why the Death Gratuity was not being paid under the Pay Our Military Act.

"It has come to my attention that the Department of Defense is not currently paying several critical allowances earned by members of the Armed Forces that have made the ultimate sacrifice," Wilson wrote in his letter. "These include, the Death Gratuity, which is payable to a designated beneficiary."

"We cannot in good conscience deny these benefits to the survivors of deceased members," Wilson writes in the letter. "I request that you provide me a summary of which of the pays and allowances on (a list attached to the letter) that will not be paid and the rationale for non-payment." 

Senate Chaplain Barry Black opened Wednesday's session with a prayer that chided members of Congress over the death benefits issue, saying "enough is enough." 

"Lord, when our federal shutdown delays payments of death benefits to the families of children dying on far-away battlefields, it's time for our lawmakers to say enough is enough," Black said during his morning prayer, a daily Senate ritual. "Cover our shame with the robe of your righteousness."

Also on Wednesday, the House passed a "piecemeal" measure to restore funding for the Federal Aviation Administration as the shutdown continues. The White House has said it would veto that legislation, saying that a full re-opening of the government is necessary instead. 

NBC's Kasie Hunt contributed to this report. 

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