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House unanimously votes to restore fallen soldiers' benefits

Oct. 9, 2013 at 5:35 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- The U.S. House voted unanimously Wednesday to restore Defense Department death benefits for the families of fallen service members.

The 425-0 vote came after the department said it could not make the payments because of the partial government shutdown. The Pentagon has provided a "death gratuity" of $100,000 to the families of fallen soldiers to cover their travel expenses and funerals.

The Fisher House Foundation, a non-profit charity that assists military families, Tuesday offered to make the $100,000 death payments until the full benefit is restored by Congress. The bipartisan measure to restore the benefit must pass the Senate and be signed by the president.

"I am offended, outraged and embarrassed that the government shutdown has prevented the Department of Defense from fulfilling this most sacred responsibility in a timely manner," Defense Secretary Charles Hagel said in a statement. "In the days before the shutdown, we warned Congress and the American people that DoD would not have the legal authority to make these payments during a lapse in appropriations."

The Fisher House Foundation offered to step in and make the payments from its own funds and reached an agreement with the Pentagon.

U.S. President Barack Obama was to meet with the House Democratic caucus Wednesday to discuss the budget impasse, the White House said. House Republican leaders and budget negotiators were invited for discussions Thursday with the president, who had invited the full Republican conference, Roll Call said.

Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president's invitation to the full GOP conference stands.

"President Obama is disappointed that Speaker [John A.] Boehner is preventing his members from coming to the White House," Carney said in a statement. "The president thought it was important to talk directly with the members who force this economic crisis on the country about how the shutdown and a failure to pay the country's bills could devastate the economy."

House Republicans said they'd review a plan Wednesday to split off raising the debt limit from the shutdown in White House talks, lawmakers said.

The rank-and-file strategy, conflicting with House GOP leadership plans to broaden the debate beyond funding the Affordable Care Act to other spending areas, was to be a major topic at Wednesday's Republican Study Committee meeting, the lawmakers said.

Funding the government and raising the debt ceiling "don't need to be tied together," study committee Chairman Steve Scalise, R-La., told Politico.

Separately, an International Monetary Fund official said the risk of U.S. default appears low but default could "seriously damage the global economy and financial system."

Speaking at a news conference in Washington, IMF Financial Counselor and Director Monetary and Capital Markets Jose Vinals said the federal government shutdown and a failure to raise the U.S. borrowing limit before current borrowing authority expires would negatively affect the U.S. economy but "if there were to be some default on the payment of debt interest of the United States, this is something that would have very [strong] repercussions in financial markets throughout the world."

Vinals called default "a very small probability event," but if it were to occur it would be "a very serious disruption to the recovery that we are seeing and this will have a very negative impact on the economies of every country I can think of."

Vinals said a U.S. default would "adversely affect advanced economies, American markets, low income countries, it would be a worldwide shock."

"The debt ceiling will have to be dealt with, but it's got to be dealt with in a way that also puts reforms into place," he said.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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