A file photo of President Barack Obama signing a document. (Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)
Hide Caption

President Barack Obama signs bill to continue financial benefits to families of fallen troops

a a a a
Share this story

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama has signed a bill to continue financial benefits to families of fallen troops during the government shutdown.

The White House says Obama signed the measure into law Thursday hours after the Senate cleared it for his signature.

Final passage came a day after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said a military charity, the Fisher House Foundation, would make the benefit payments during the shutdown. The lapse in funding meant the Pentagon had no authority to continue the payments.

The Pentagon typically pays out $100,000 within three days of a service member's death. Twenty-nine members of the military have died during active duty since parts of the government shut down on Oct. 1.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

A bill to provide benefits for the families of fallen troops is heading to President Barack Obama, a move that failed to quell the furor over the Pentagon's suspension of payments during the partial government shutdown.

By voice vote Thursday, the Senate approved a measure that would reinstate benefits for surviving family members, including funeral and burial expenses, and death gratuity payments. The Pentagon typically pays out $100,000 within three days of a service member's death.

Twenty-nine members of the military have died on active duty since the government shutdown began last Tuesday.

The Pentagon infuriated congressional Republicans and Democrats and touched off a national firestorm when it said that a law allowing the military to be paid during the partial government shutdown did not cover the death benefit payments. Congress passed and Obama signed that measure into law before the government shutdown last Tuesday, and lawmakers insist that the benefits shouldn't have been affected.

In stepped a charity, the Fisher House Foundation, which Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday would cover the costs during the shutdown. Hagel said the Pentagon would reimburse the foundation after the shutdown ended.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Thursday that the organization is "extraordinarily generous and they do very good work," but he pressed for Senate passage of the benefits bill to ensure the Defense Department and Fisher House wouldn't have to figure out a special work-around.

The government could not actively solicit funds from private organizations but could accept an offer.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Pentagon had essentially resolved the problem and the issue was moot, but he didn't object to passage of the bill.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the arrangement with Fisher House means "the legislation is not necessary" because the issue has been resolved. He would not say whether Obama would sign the bill.

Across the Capitol, Republicans on a House Armed Services panel excoriated Pentagon comptroller Robert Hale, accusing him of playing politics with his interpretation of the original law. They said the law was designed to pay the death benefits as well as keep all Defense Department civilians on the job - not to select the most essential.

"You went out of your way to make this as ugly as possible, to inflict as much pain as possible on this department," said Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., who introduced the first bill days before the shutdown in an attempt to exempt the military.

Hale responded that the law was poorly written and there never should have been a shutdown in the first place.

"I resent your remarks," the budget chief said. "I acted on the advice of attorneys and our best reading of a loosely worded law."

He said it was "not a political judgment - we were trying to do what the law said."

The chairman of the House subcommittee, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., told Hale that while he welcomed the charity organization's help "to fill this senseless void created by government lawyers narrowly interpreting the law, it is Secretary Hagel's responsibility to make the hard policy judgment and to do the right thing. That is to find a way to treat our families with the respect and dignity they have earned."

---

Associated Press writers Pauline Jelinek and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Print this article

Comments

Hmm... It looks like you’re not a WCPO Insider. or Subscribe now to contribute!

Government Shutdown
Shutdown affected us in ways we did not see
Shutdown affected us in ways we did not see

Our food was a little less safe, our workplaces a little more dangerous. The risk of getting sick was a bit higher, our kids' homework…

Worker dragged off House floor in screaming fit
Worker dragged off House floor in screaming fit

A woman described by lawmakers and aides as a long-time House stenographer has been removed from the chamber during a vote after she began shouting.

How much did the shutdown really cost us?
How much did the shutdown really cost us?

It took 16 days, but late Wednesday, a battle-weary Congress approved a measure to end the government shutdown. But how much did it really…

Federal workers go back to work after shutdown
Federal workers go back to work after shutdown

Hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers are returning to work across the country after 16 days off the job.

Beshear laments effects of government shutdown
Beshear laments effects of government shutdown

Gov. Steve Beshear is pressing Kentucky's federal delegation to resolve the government shutdown, saying it's having negative effects…

Yosemite reopens immediately after shutdown vote
Yosemite reopens immediately after shutdown vote

Yosemite National Park is reopening to visitors Wednesday night with the end of the 16-day partial government shutdown.

World heaves sigh of relief as US avoids default
World heaves sigh of relief as US avoids default

The International Monetary Fund appealed to Washington for more stable management of the nation's finances as Asian stock markets rose…

Gov't reopens after Congress ends shutdown
Gov't reopens after Congress ends shutdown

The government reopened its doors Thursday after a battle-weary Congress approved a bipartisan measure to end a 16-day partial shutdown and…

Obama signs bill to avert default, open gov't
Obama signs bill to avert default, open gov't

President Barack Obama has signed a measure into law reopening the federal government and averting a potential default.  

Furloughed? Send creditors a note from gov't
Furloughed? Send creditors a note from gov't

Furloughed federal workers who have trouble paying bills can send their creditors a letter from the government pleading for patience.