WASHINGTON: Every member of Congress should hang his or her head in shame this afternoon. The Fisher House Foundation has stepped into the breach of the federal government shutdown and agreed to pay the families of Americans who die fighting for their country the government benefits to which they are entitled.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel put the issue simply:
“I am offended, outraged, and embarrassed that the government shutdown had prevented the Department of Defense from fulfilling this most sacred responsibility in a timely manner,” Hagel said in a statement. “The Fisher House Foundation will provide the families of the fallen with the benefits they so richly deserve. After the shutdown ends, DoD will reimburse the Fisher House for the costs it has incurred.”
The benefits include a $100,000 death gratuity payment to help families pay funeral costs and travel to Dover Air Force Base to receive the bodies of their loved ones. Families of five Americans who died in the service of their country in Afghanistan over the weekend have not gotten any benefits.
Hagel says the Pentagon “warned Congress and the American people that DoD would not have the legal authority to make these payments during a lapse in appropriations.” Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, decried this on the Senate floor several days ago. Sen. John McCain, who understands the importance of this issue better than all but a few members, took to the Senate floor yesterday to say he too was “ashamed.”
“I’m ashamed! I’m embarrassed. All of us should be,” he told his silent colleagues.
Hagel notes that: “Our men and women in uniform must know that the Department will always fulfill its responsibilities to them and to their families.”
What about those people on Capitol Hill? “Congress has responsibilities as well, and it has abdicated them. Along with the rest of the Department’s leaders, I will continue to work every day to address the very real impact that the government shutdown is having on our people, and I once again call on Congress to fulfill its basic responsibilities and restore funding for the federal government,” Hagel, a Republican, said.
The House Republicans will argue that, gee, we did our best. We passed a spending bill to make this good and those fools in the Senate refused to vote on it. Every time the public gets sufficiently peeved about something that isn’t happening thanks to the federal government shutdown, the House GOP rushes a bill to the floor, passes it, and the Senate refuses to vote on it, with Sen. Harry Reid arguing that these are gimmicks the GOP is passing instead of doing something substantive. UPDATED: This time, Reid realized the political consequences of this were unsupportable and the Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent, meaning no one can be blamed for voting against it or for abstaining.
Meanwhile, those five families waited and waited for their country to act.