Politics

Shutdown Theater: time to beat up the military

Shutdown Theater: time to beat up the military

You unruly peons still have not bowed to King Barack’s demands, despite rough treatment at the hands of his shock troops across the country.  The spectacle of the King’s allies in the “immigration reform” movement receiving red-carpet treatment on the supposedly closed National Mall still hasn’t made you understand how helpless you are before the power of the Deficit Throne.  The government must grow larger, taking more money from a generation yet unborn, and you must accept that ObamaCare is the first law in American history that can never be repealed, no matter how badly the program fails.  But still you resist, even daring to bypass the King’s barricades and defy his orders to avert your gaze from national parks, herds of bison, and Mount Rushmore!

Very well.  Let’s see how you like watching the families of your precious military heroes suffer.  Congress passed a bill before the shutdown authorizing the military to “pay all kinds of bills,” including death benefits for the families of fallen soldiers, as it was described by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).  The President signed this bill into law.  And yet, somehow the Pentagon decided they don’t have the “legal authority” to pay those benefits while 17 percent of the federal government remains shut down.

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Perhaps this was a failure on the part of Congress to craft its pre-shutdown legislation carefully enough – see the Affordable Care Act for evidence of just how badly a bill can be botched.  Defense Department officials say they warned Congress this might happen, but every representative quoted by the media seems genuinely surprised that it wasn’t addressed by what they passed last week.  Perhaps they were counting on the Administration to use its discretion and interpret budgetary authorizations in the most favorable light for veterans and their families, trimming a little bureaucratic fat to make money for fallen heroes.

If that’s the case, they need their heads examined.  No one should have required a front-row seat at the early performances of Barack Obama’s Shutdown Theater to see what was coming.  We already got a taste of it during the sequester, after all.  And remember, military cuts were supposed to be leverage against the Republican Party specifically, when President Obama insisted on sequestration as part of the Budget Control Act.

House Republicans will pass a bill on Wednesday to compel the restoration of death benefits, and it sounds from a CNN report like they’ll have bipartisan support:

“This particular situation is unthinkable,” Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), said on the House floor Tuesday. “A great injustice is being done to our service members and their families.”

[...] Republicans are drafting legislation that would restore death benefit payments, which the Pentagon says were frozen under the shutdown, to the survivors of service members killed in action, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers told CNN.

Discord over the lapse in funding was seemingly bipartisan.

“I want immediately for the $100,000 death benefit and flight to Dover to be immediately given to these families,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D.TX) said on the House floor Tuesday. “I am reaching out to the Pentagon, writing a letter and asking that this be immediately resolved.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who is a Marine combat veteran who fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan, told Megyn Kelly of Fox News that withholding these death benefits “dishonors our fallen brothers and sisters,” calling on Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to order the problem fixed on Tuesday night.  That evidently has not happened, as of this writing.

Hunter also called on “every single American” and “every news channel” to push the Defense Department “to get this right.”  If he was watching the White House Press Corps lob softballs at President Obama and studiously avoid asking any questions that would discombobulate him yesterday, he knows he’s not going to get a lot of help from many of those “news channels.”

Speaker Boehner, quoted by Fox News, said “I think it’s disgraceful that they’re withholding these benefits,” and urged the President to sign the legislation when it passes Congress.  But will Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) quietly murder this bill, just like he’s killed over a dozen previous House efforts to fund various parts of the government, without feeling any heat from the Obama-friendly media?  It’s a bit of a quandary for Reid, because if he lets the bill to fund military death benefits slide, it’s remotely possible that someone from the press might consider asking him about all the other bills buried in shallow graves behind the Capitol.

Fox describes the plight of five families affected by the suspension of death benefits:

The Pentagon says it has specific instructions from its budget office not to make payments for deaths that occurred after 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 30, 2013.

Over the weekend, four soldiers — two of them Army Rangers — and one Marine were killed while conducting combat operations in Afghanistan. The bodies of the four soldiers will be returned to Dover Air Force Base on Wednesday.

Due to the impasse, the families of 25-year-old 1st Lt. Jennifer M. Moreno; 24-year-old Pfc. Cody J. Patterson; 24-year-old Special Agent Joseph M. Peters; 25-year-old Sgt. Patrick C. Hawkins; and 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Jeremiah M. Collins, Jr. will not receive the $100,000 payment that they would have otherwise received within three days of the death.

Adding further insult, the families will have to pay for their own travel to Dover. That’s a bill the Pentagon also says it can’t pay because of the partial shutdown.

Help has been offered by a private organization, the Fisher House Foundation of Maryland, which offered to cover the $100,000 benefit payments normally issued by the government after a soldier falls in battle.  The offer was announced by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), as reported by Fox News:

“I am so grateful that the Fisher House Foundation volunteered to help military families to make sure there is no funding gap during a time of unimaginable grief, ” Manchin said in a statement, adding that the organization has agreed to cover flights, hotels and other incidentals for family members.

The Pentagon says that as long as the budget impasse lasts, it will not be able to pay death benefits to the families of troops who’ve been killed in combat.

“After losing a loved one in service to our nation, these families should not have to endure more pain as the result of political squabbling,” Ken Fisher, the foundation’s chairman and chief executive officer said in a statement. “For the last 20 years, Fisher House has been there to support our military families in their time of greatest need. We are now stepping up to honor the sacrifices that have been made, and to repay a debt that is truly unpayable.”

More details on the Fisher House offer from CNN:

A spokeswoman for Fisher House said the group would work out a repayment plan with the families once the government begins to reimburse the death benefits.

“We’re also already helping several of them with free airline tickets, and of course, most will be staying at our Dover Fisher House,” the spokeswoman said in a written statement. “If the house is full, we’ll pay the hotel bill and any incidentals.”

There’s also trouble brewing over at the Veterans’ Administration, where NBC News reports funds will begin running out in a few weeks:

The VA has been continuing to make payments to veterans in the days since the Oct. 1 government shutdown, but agency officials say the pool of available money is dwindling.

“Claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation programs are anticipated to continue through late October. However, in the event of a prolonged shutdown, claims processing and payments in these programs would be suspended when available funding is exhausted,” said a statement from the agency’s public affairs office.

The impasse also threatens to further slow the VA’s backlog of overdue claims for benefits from needy veterans.

That backlog of overdue claims is already described as “severe.”  Maybe it wasn’t a good idea for the hapless four-trillion-dollar titan of Washington DC to take on immense new responsibilities for managing all Americans’ health care, when it was having so much trouble handling its duties to our military personnel.

Why should it be necessary for Congress to pass a law compelling the restoration of these benefits?  There’s a fundamental logical conflict between the notion of an almighty super-government with the power and wisdom to control much of American industry, including the entire health-insurance business… but lacks the compassion and discretion to trim its overhead by enough to fund benefits for fallen troops.  It’s similar to the logical contradiction of President Obama as a helpless bystander to cruel Republican refusal to fully finance our beautiful mega-government and all its wonders… but he transforms into Barack the Uncompromising when the subject is funding for his unworkable disaster of a health-care plan.

Update: Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), vice chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, issued a statement after learning that 7,000 VA employees stood to be furloughed, with many regional offices closed:  “One of my top priorities in Congress is making sure our veterans receive the benefits they have earned in service to this country.  The House has already passed two bills – H. J. Res. 72, the Honoring Our Promise to America’s Veterans Act, and H.R. 2216, the Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act – to end these furloughs and restore the VA to full operating capacity during the government shutdown.  The Senate and the President must not allow Washington politics to interfere with providing our veterans with the benefits they have earned and need.”

Update: Jim Geraghty at National Review talked to a House aide who confirmed the “death gratuity” was supposed to be covered by the Pay Our Military Act signed by President Obama last week.  When “whispers from third parties” were heard at the end of last week about problems with the gratuity, Rep. Joe Wilson wrote to SecDef Chuck Hagel asking for clarification.

He apparently did not receive a response, and the Administration never formally notified Congress that the death benefits would not be paid.  According to the aide who spoke with Geraghty, House Republicans learned about the failure to pay benefits for the families described above by watching the Today Show on NBC.

But sure, let’s give this Administration total control over our health care.  I’m sure we’ll be promptly notified if there are any problems.

Update: Early Wednesday afternoon, President Obama caved before mounting public outrage, pronounced himself “very disturbed” about the halting of death benefits, and ordered his Office of Management and Budget to find a way to reinstate them.  According to The HillHouse legislation to ensure these benefits are paid continues moving forward.

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