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Bessent: Shutdown is no excuse for failing to pay military death benefits

House Speaker John Boehner arrives for work at

House Speaker John Boehner arrives for work at the U.S. Capitol. (Oct. 7, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

The shutdown outrage du jour — the delay in paying death benefits to families of fallen military personnel — is fortunately one where there’s an easy fix.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday that before the shutdown began, Congress gave the Defense Department authority to pay the $100,000 benefit along with transportation and burial costs to the families. While it may not be crystal clear that he’s right, President Barack Obama should take him at his word and pay.

With the remains of four service members due to arrive at the Dover Air Force Base Wednesday, its just the right thing to do. It would, incidentally, also allow both Republicans and Democrats to duck blame for this particularly egregious result of Washington’s latest impasse.


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As it stands now, the families would get the money they’re due whenever the shutdown ends. But timing matters. The benefit is usually paid within three days of a soldier’s death for good reason: Lost service members are breadwinners as well as loved ones. Their families’ finances shouldn’t be upended at such a tragic time.

Immediately meeting this one solemn obligation doesn’t mean Obama should play into the House Republicans’ attempt to fund the government piecemeal in response to public outcries about losing particular services during the shutdown. That’s just a back-door approach for funding everything the GOP likes while denying funding for Democratic priorities.

The Fisher House, a not-for-profit military support organization, offered Tuesday to advance the benefit to families until the government pays up. That’s great, but having a stand-in meet this obligation to fallen heroes is shameful. 

Tags: shutdown , military

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