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Pentagon freeze on death benefits sparks outrage

Bradley Klapper, Associated Press

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio gestures while speaking outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013. President Barack Obama stepped up pressure Tuesday on the Boehner to hold votes to reopen the federal government and prevent a potentially disastrous U.S. government default. Obama spoke to reporters at the White House a few hours after calling Boehner and urging him to drop demands that the votes be tied to Republican demands for dismantling Obama's health care law and cutting federal spending. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Members of Congress expressed outrage Tuesday that families of fallen U.S. military personnel are being denied death benefits while Democrats and Republicans grope for a way to end the partial government shutdown. The GOP-led House readied a quick fix.

The Pentagon typically pays out $100,000 within three days of a soldier's death. But it says the shutdown means there is no authority now to pay the money.

House Speaker John Boehner blasted the Obama administration Tuesday for withholding the payments. He said Congress gave the Defense Department broad authority to continue paying bills such as the death payments in a law passed just before the government shut down on Oct. 1.

"Frankly, I think it's disgraceful that they're withholding these benefits," Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters.

He said the House would address the problem Wednesday, and he called on President Barack Obama to sign the bill into law. Senate Democrats have been hesitant to pass piecemeal legislation, insisting the entire government be reopened.

In the Senate, members of both parties lamented the impasse.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the lack of compensation for the families of five soldiers killed in Afghanistan over the weekend was "appalling."

"Shouldn't we be ashamed?" said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

"Your government has let you down in a time of your need," echoed fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, describing what his message to the families would be. Graham blamed Democrats, Republicans and Obama for the situation.