WASHINGTON – President Obama is ordering his administration to restart payment of death benefits to the families of fallen military personnel despite the government shutdown, the White House said Wednesday.
Obama was “not pleased” to learn that death benefits were not being paid and that grieving families were waiting for their stipends to cover the cost of burials, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.
“The president expects this to be fixed today,” Carney told reporters in the daily White House briefing.
On Wednesday afternoon, the GOP-led House voted 425-0 to approve a bill that would allow the Pentagon to make the payments to families of military members killed in war zones. The overwhelming support puts pressure on Senate Democrats to take up the bill.
The president and Democratic congressional leaders have been reluctant to pass band-aid bills that resolve specific shortfalls during the standoff.
When asked earlier on Wednesday if the Senate would act to continue payments, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that the president is working with the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Defense to see what they can do to solve the problem.
“We are going to see what the House does,” Reid said.
Carney said that, prior to the budget standoff, Department of Defense officials told Congress they would not be able to cut the checks if the government went into shutdown mode.
Obama signed a bill passed by Congress last month to ensure that service members receive their paychecks on time despite the shutdown, but that measure did not guarantee death benefits.
If Congress is worried about the implications of government shutdown, aides to the president say, members should pass a resolution to continue funding the entire government at current spending levels.
The real solution, Carney said, “is to open the government.” “Allow a vote,” he said. “Move on. We can negotiate about the budget and the priorities, but not under threat of continued shutdown.”
Still, Carney said the president has directed his lawyers and the Office of Management and Budget to fix the death benefits problem without delay.
“They are working on it,” he said, “and will have it today.”