Senate passes death benefits measure

Despite saying it was no longer necessary, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) allowed the Senate to pass a House measure to provide death benefits to soldiers’ families.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) asked for unanimous consent to pass H.J.Res. 91, which covers funeral expenses and pays out $100,000, among other benefits, to the families of troops who are killed.

“The death benefit issue has been resolved ... so this issue is largely mute,” Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday. “This move is now just for show here ... [but] I don’t object.” 

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On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced a deal to allow the Fisher House Foundation to pay for the benefits with the expectation that the charity group would be refunded by the Department of Defense once the government was reopened.

Benefits stopped when the government shut down more than a week ago. Lawmakers are at an impasse on how to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government.

Reid said the House should vote on a Senate-passed “clean” CR to reopen all government functions, not just military benefits. The House has passed nearly a dozen “piecemeal” spending bills — this is the first one the Senate has taken up and passed.

Senate passage sends the bill to President Obama's desk for his signature — Obama has threatened to veto the mini-spending bills from the House. The House passed the measure to restore death benefits on a 425-0 vote Wednesday.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said that President Obama was “very disturbed” to learn that the benefits weren’t being paid and wanted a fix on Wednesday.

“The Department of Defense informed Congress that the Department would be legally unable to pay death benefits were there to be a lapse in DOD appropriations,” Carney said Wednesday. “In other words, informed Congress prior to the lapse that, that would be the case if there were to be a lapse. Unfortunately, this issue was not explicitly addressed as part of the ‘Pay Our Military Act.’ ”