WASHINGTON – The Senate sent to the White House legislation that would restart death benefits for families of military members who die on active duty, and the president signed the bill Thursday night even though his spokesman had said it was not needed.
“There’s an obvious, available fix” for dealing with the government services that have fallen victim to the lapse in spending authority, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. “Open the government.”
[Updated, 5:40 p.m. Oct. 10: Hours later, Obama signed the bill, even though a private charity had agreed to pay death benefits to the families, taking pressure off the White House to act.]
Controversy began to swirl this week over the $100,000 in death benefits the Department of Defense usually pays out within three days of a service member’s death.
Families frequently use the money to travel for burial services. But the payments were temporarily halted as a result of the political stalemate over funding the federal government.
During an evening walk with his chief of staff on Tuesday, aides say, President Obama ordered his staff to “get creative” and figure out how to resume the payments.
The Pentagon reached a deal with the Fisher House Foundation, a charity helping military families, to pay the benefits until the government reopens. The government will pay back Fisher House.
The GOP-led House, which has passed a number of bills to restart specific government functions, approved a measure to restore payments Wednesday. On Thursday, the Senate gave its unanimous approval.
The administration is opposed to the House GOP’s piecemeal measures that restore a few popular programs but leave the rest to languish under the ongoing government shutdown. The Senate has not taken up most of those bills.