House Passes Bill to Restore Military Death Benefits

Wednesday, 09 Oct 2013 02:14 PM

By Todd Beamon

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The House of Representatives voted unanimously on Wednesday to restore death benefits to families of slain troops that were halted during the federal government shutdown, as the Obama administration scrambled to find a way to pay the benefits to the relatives of five troops killed in Afghanistan over the weekend.

It was unclear if the Democratic-led Senate would take up the bill, which the House passed by a 425-0 vote.

The legislation was the second stop-gap measure addressing military pay backed by the House. Last week, the House approved a bill that would continue paying the nation's troops during the shutdown, which entered its ninth day on Wednesday.

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The Pentagon typically pays out $100,000 within three days of a soldier's death. But it says the shutdown means there's no authority now to pay the money.

House Speaker John Boehner has blamed the Obama administration for withholding the payments. But White House spokesman Jay Carney says Republicans are at fault for shutting down the government.

Carney said on Wednesday that President Barack Obama was "disturbed" to learn of the problem and that the administration hoped to find a solution to the problem.

The bodies of the slain soldiers arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Wednesday afternoon.

Republicans have bitterly attacked the White House over the issue, with Boehner charging on Tuesday, "I think it's disgraceful that they're withholding these benefits."

Sen. John McCain of Arizona said that members of Congress should be "embarrassed" and "ashamed" for the payment lapse — and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that it was "inexcusable" for the Obama administration to refuse to pay the death benefits.

"I just can't imagine a decision-making process that would produce those outcomes," Rumsfeld, who served as Secretary of Defense under Presidents Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, told Fox News' "On the Record."

"It's so unfair — to the families, to the veterans, to the soldiers."

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Carney told reporters at the White House earlier Wednesday that Obama directed government lawyers to find an immediate fix to help the families.

Just before the shutdown began on Oct. 1, the president signed a law allowing the Pentagon to pay the military.

Obama was "very disturbed" when he heard about the lapse, Carney said, and directed lawyers at the Defense Department and White House budget office to find a way to resume the payments.

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

He said the Pentagon told Congress that it would be "legally unable" to pay death benefits in the event of a shutdown, but that the issue "was not explicitly addressed" in the law that allows the military to continue to be paid.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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