After widespread outrage over the suspension of payment of military spousal death benefits, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that President Obama had directed the Pentagon to work with the Office of Management and Budget and his lawyers to develop a solution to the problem today:
JIM ACOSTA: Jay, for the last couple of days folks have been wondering what is going to happen to the military spousal death benefits. Any update on that?
JAY CARNEY: I thank you for the question. The Department of Defense informed Congress that the department would be legally unable to pay death benefits were there to be a lapse in DOD appropriations. In other words, informed Congress prior to the lapse that would be the case if there were to be a lapse. Unfortunately, this issue was not explicitly addressed as part of the Pay Our Military Act. The president was very disturbed to learn of this problem, and he directed the Department of Defense to work with the Office of Management and Budget and his lawyers to develop a possible solution and he expects this to be fixed today.
ACOSTA: Oh, so today?
ACOSTA: This should be resolved?
CARNEY: That's what the president expects. He was not pleased to learn of this problem, and he has directed the OMB and his lawyers to find a solution and he expects to have one today.
The Washington Free Beacon's Bill Gertz reported Wednesday morning on the sharp Republican criticism of the Pentagon for playing politics with the shutdown by refusing to pay out death benefits:
However, congressional aides told the Washington Free Beacon that the Pentagon never notified Congress that it would decline to make death payments to survivors of military personnel.
"We think they’re playing politics with the shutdown," said one senior aide.
A U.S. official said that to further highlight the issue Defense Secretary Hagel today plans to attend a ceremony at Dover Air Force Base, Del., to greet the returning remains of four soldiers.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney criticized the Pentagon for failing to make the payments.
"The nonpayment of the death gratuity by the Obama administration is the lowest point I have ever seen in the history of [the Defense Department]," McInerney said in an email. "It is clearly within the authority of President Obama to pay this death gratuity to these four families plus their travel costs to Dover. All six members of the JCS should meet with the president and if he does not meet their request they should resign en masse. Their job is to take care of the troops. The president is not."