White House, Congress agree on military survivor benefits

Updated Oct. 10, 2013 at 1:01 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- President Obama Thursday signed into law a resolution providing continuing appropriations for death gratuities and survivor benefits, "and for other purposes."

Obama signed into law H.J. Res. 91, "which provides continuing appropriations for standard death gratuities and related survivor benefits for survivors of deceased military service members of the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2014, and for other purposes," the White House said in a statement.

The White House earlier said Obama had a "good meeting" with House Republicans but "no determination was made" on the federal debt limit.

Republicans left the White House without comment after meeting with the president, Vice President Joe Biden, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and other administration officials on a GOP plan to extend the U.S. debt limit. Obama had wanted the entire House Republican conference to attend, but leaders cut the delegation to 18.

"The president had a good meeting with members of the House Republican Leadership this evening," the White House said in a statement.

"After a discussion about potential paths forward, no specific determination was made."

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told CNN it was a positive meeting, calling it a "good first step" and saying there would be further discussions Thursday night. CNN and NBC said there were reports Obama outright rejected the House GOP plan to have a short-term debt-limit agreement.

Senate Democrats met earlier with the president for an hour and a half.

After that meeting, the White House issued a statement saying Obama and congressional Democrats "share the principle that we cannot allow a faction of the House Republicans to demand a ransom from the American people in exchange for Congress doing its job, and the president reaffirmed that we will not allow them to hold the economy hostage to an extreme political agenda that includes demands like defunding Obamacare [the Affordable Care Act] or reinstating tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires that the majority of Americans reject. The president and the Senate Democrats will continue to pursue reasonable discussions about our budget challenges after these manufactured crises' end."

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, floated a proposal Thursday to raise the debt limit for six weeks to open the way for more wide-ranging fiscal talks.

Obama and Senate Democrats signaled they want any deal raising the debt limit to include reopening the federal government, partially closed since Oct. 1, and it was unclear whether the president would approve a short-term deal not accompanied by reopening of the government.

"I think the president said the other day that if they were to send him a clean debt ceiling extension, no partisan strings attached, he would sign it," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. "But we don't know that, that's what we're going to get here. If they send him a -- if the House passes -- as they could right now -- the bill to pass the Senate to reopen the government at funding levels Republicans set and celebrated, he would sign it."

Carney dismissed critics -- who he said included Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa -- who say catastrophic events won't follow a failure to raise the U.S. debt limit, citing former President Ronald Reagan.

The press secretary quoted Reagan as saying, "Bringing the government to the edge of default threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits," in September of 1987.

Earlier Thursday, a White House official speaking anonymously said inspectors with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who monitor nuclear power safety, would remain on the job.

The NRC has furloughed 3,600 employees, about 90 percent of its workforce Thursday.

House Republicans were expected to vote on extending the debt limit deadline for six weeks past the Oct. 17 date now in place.

The GOP plan included a provision barring the administration from taking extraordinary measures to avoid default the next time the borrowing limit is reached, National Review Online reported.

Obama had been pushing for a proposal from Senate Democrats to extend the debt limit for a year with no "extraneous political strings attached," a White House official told The New York Times, but will not negotiate on other issues unless the government is reopened.

A White House official told CBS News, "Once Republicans in Congress act to remove the threat of default and end this harmful government shutdown, the president will be willing to negotiate on a broader budget agreement to create jobs, grow the economy and put our fiscal house in order."

A senior Senate Democratic aide said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., might not accept the GOP debt limit extension plan, The Hill newspaper reported.

"We'll have a conversation with them about anything. Open the government, let us pay our bills," Reid said Thursday on the Senate floor.

The Hill said even if Republicans pass a clean short-term debt limit increase without spending cuts, Senate Democrats might balk if the proposal leaves agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency closed.

"Listen, it's time for leadership," Boehner said during a press availability where he unveiled his proposal. "It's time for these negotiations and this conversation to begin. And I would hope that the president will look at this as an opportunity and a good faith effort on our part to move halfway, halfway to what he has demanded, in order to have these conversations begin."

House Republicans were planning to forgo the Columbus holiday break because of the crisis.

The plan does not include any additional spending cuts, making it more palatable to Democrats and the White House, but would not reopen the government.

A group of Republican senators has begun meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to find a solution to the government shutdown and the debt ceiling impasse.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned Congress Thursday additional borrowing costs incurred by failure to raise the debt limit "could not easily be undone."

"If interest rates rose, it would have a real impact on American households," Lew's prepared testimony before the Senate Finance Committee said. "The stock market, including investments in retirement accounts, could tumble, and it could become more expensive for Americans to buy a car, own a home, and open a small business.

"These additional costs of borrowing could not easily be undone and our actions would impact Americans for generations to come," Lew told the committee. "Failing to raise the debt ceiling will impact everyday Americans beyond its impact on financial markets."

Lew told the panel he would do all he can to minimize the effects of breaching the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling but couldn't guarantee what would be paid.

From Oct. 17 to Nov. 1, Lew said, large payments are due to Medicare providers, Social Security beneficiaries and veterans, as well as salaries for active-duty military personnel.

"A failure to raise the debt limit could put timely payment of all of these at risk," Lew said.

He closed by noting finance ministers were in Washington for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank annual meetings.

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