Obama restores military death benefits

President Obama on Thursday signed a law restarting benefits to the survivors of deceased military service members that had been halted because of the government shutdown.

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The decision to sign the legislation comes despite the administration having brokered a partnership with an outside charity to temporarily cover the benefits. It also represents the first so-called funding bill that the president has signed during the 10-day shutdown.

The White House has threatened to veto similar piecemeal efforts that would have reopened national monuments or restarted medical research programs, decrying the efforts as not addressing the need to reopen the entire federal government.

But unlike those bills, the death benefits bill passed through the Senate, moving the legislation to the president's desk.

In a briefing with reporters earlier Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the legislation was "not necessary."

"Our view has been that this piecemeal funding is, again, a gimmick," Carney said.

But Carney also defended the president, saying Obama took action immediately after the problem was identified.

"In his evening walk with chief of staff Denis McDonough on Tuesday, the president raised the concern about death benefits not being paid to deserving families," Carney said. "And Mr. McDonough explained that the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Defense were trying to find a solution and that the Pay Our Military Act did not appear to fix it. The president directed Mr. McDonough to get creative and get it solved within 24 hours."

On Wednesday, the administration announced an agreement with the Fisher House Foundation, which offered to temporarily cover the survivor benefits.

Republicans have charged that the administration had been opting against providing the benefits to make the shutdown more painful.

“The political objective was to inflict as much harm as you possibly could in your own department," Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) said at a House Armed Services hearing on the measure Thursday. “The Department of Defense took it upon itself to disregard the will of American people and violate the law.”

Carney brushed aside questions on whether the president's decision to authorize the benefits could undermine the administration's stance against piecemeal bills.

"What is absolutely true is that there are terrible consequences of shutdown," Carney said. "There are inconveniences and then there are real hardships caused by it. And Congress needs to open the government."

The administration did not indicate whether the president would sign a separate Senate-passed bill that would allow military chaplains to return to work.

— Jeremy Herb contributed.