Obama signs military death benefits bill

Posted at 11:06 PM, Oct 10, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-10 23:06:21-04

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama has signed into law legislation that continues federal funding of death benefits for military families, the White House said on Thursday.

The issue became an emotional political flashpoint because it had been cut during the government shutdown.

The Senate gave final congressional approval to a House-passed measure earlier in the day even though the Obama administration had finalized a plan for a private charity — Fisher House — to cover the cost of benefits until the government shutdown is resolved.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the push by Republicans was “unnecessary” because benefits were again flowing.

“This issue is largely moot. It’s clear the action on this legislation is just for show,” he said.

Until now, Senate Democrats had refused to take up a series of individual bills the GOP-led House passed to reopen parts of the government, such as the National Institutes of Health and the Veterans Administration.

Outside of approving one bill to provide pay for the military, Democrats have insisted Republicans agree to reopen the entire government as opposed to doing it piecemeal.

A spokesman for Reid wouldn’t say specifically why the Democratic leader agreed to pass the death benefit bill but he pointed to Reid’s comments that the push by Republicans was for “show.”

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn said he was concerned about legal and other issues that might arise from the special contract the Pentagon made with Fisher House and wanted the fix in law.

He said he hopes the decision by Democrats “paves the way” to take up “some other narrow bills until we can come together on a larger bill.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also said the legislation wasn’t needed because of the Fisher House arrangement.

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

Spouses and families of service members who die get $100,000 as well as other benefits, such as the cost of burial, travel, and housing.