Congress restores military death benefits as shutdown continues


WASHINGTON — Congress last week swiftly restored military death benefits to families of fallen soldiers that had been delayed due to the continuing government shutdown.

The legislation cleared the House and Senate unanimously and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. It assures families would receive a $100,000 death gratuity in timely fashion to cover funeral and other expenses.

After public outcry over the delayed payments, the Fisher House Foundation stepped in and said it would front the money to the families. The Pentagon said it would reimburse the private charity when the shutdown ends.

The House approved the bill, 425-0. Republicans insisted the Senate pass the bill too, even after the charity’s fix had been announced. It passed without objection.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the resolution was not needed – given the generosity of the Fisher House – and that Senate action was “now just for show.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said passing the legislation would remove any doubts about the benefits. He added passage of the bill also could open the door for the Senate to take up other bills coming from the House.

As the government shutdown continued for a second week, the House continued to pass “mini-bills” to fund popular parts of the government while leaving other parts shuttered.

Democrats argued against the piecemeal approach and instead pushed for passage of a Senate-approved bill to temporarily fund the entire government. The impasse stemmed from GOP’s insistence that continued funding be tied to a delay in the Affordable Care Act.

In the Republicans’ incremental strategy, a bill to fund Head Start programs passed 248-168.

Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Steve Womack, R-Rogers, voted for the Head Start bill.

Democrats failed in a procedural maneuver to shelve the Head Start bill and replace it with the Senate bill to fund all the agencies. The Republican-controlled House blocked that effort, 226-191, on a party-line vote.

Crawford, Cotton, Griffin and Womack voted against the switch.

Similarly, the House approved a mini-budget bill to keep the Department of Homeland Security open. The bill passed, 249-175.

“This bill is yet another offer to the other side of the aisle to at least fund vital components of the government. We have a duty to ensure our borders and coastlines are safe and secure and that our laws are being enforced,” said Rep. John Carter, R-Texas.

Rep. David Price, D-N.C., agreed that border security is critical but said the legislation failed to address other critical homeland security functions including cyber attacks, aviation and mass transit security, and the Secret Service.

“We cannot continue to pick winners and losers by providing temporary funding for government services, operations and personnel,” Price said. “This piecemeal approach to governing is failing our constituents and is failing our economy.”

Crawford, Cotton, Griffin and Womack voted for the homeland security bill.