“Death Gratuity” Bill Signed into Law

Congress passed H.J. Res. 91 on Wednesday, a measure providing immediate payments to the families of deceased service members for death gratuities.  President Obama signed the bill into law Thursday.

“Death gratuities” – a $100,000 payment for funeral and related expenses – were intended to be included in the stopgap “Pay Our Military Act” passed last week; H.J. Res. 91 simply granted explicit authority to the Dept. of Defense to disburse payments.

During the lapse in funding, Fisher House, a private foundation, agreed to make the payments to families during the shutdown and be reimbursed by the government at a later date.  Despite the uncontroversial nature of the measure, partisan sparring ensued.

Negotiations over Shutdown, Debt Ceiling  

House Speaker John Boehner announced Thursday House Republicans would offer a short-term increase to the debt limit in exchange for the President’s “willingness to sit down and discuss with us a way forward to re-open the government.” The GOP plan would suspend the debt limit until Nov. 22.

President Obama met first with Senate Democrats on Thursday, and later with House Republicans to receive their proposal for a short-term increase.  No agreements were reached.

Senate Democrats’ have offered a clean debt-limit increase, which is scheduled for a Saturday vote.

 

HOUSE

Floor Action

The House passed H.J. Res. 79, the “Border Safety and Security Act,” a joint resolution authorizing funds for certain ongoing activities at the Department of Homeland Security.  These areas include the ‘‘Security, Enforcement, and Investigations” units of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Coast Guard, among others.

House Committee on Homeland Security

Wednesday the committee held the hearing: “From al-Shabaab to al-Nusra: How Westerners Joining Terror Groups Overseas Affect the Homeland.”

Witnesses and members examined the organizational structure of al-Shabaab, its connection to al-Qaeda and its recruitment strategies abroad.  Within the ranks of al-Shabaab are 40-50 known American fighters, including several from Hennepin, Minn. – home of the largest Somali population in the U.S.

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

This week’s hearing, “The Effect of Government Shutdown on VA Benefits and Services to Veterans,” made headlines when Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs Eric Shinseki testified of the grim conditions for veterans’ beginning Nov. 1 if the shutdown continues:

  • compensation payments to more than 3.8 million Veterans will halt;
  • pension payments will stop for almost 315,000 Veterans and over 202,000 surviving spouses and dependents; and
  • education benefits and living stipends under GI Bill programs will stop for over 500,000 Veterans and Service members.

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