The Defense Department took pains yesterday to explain to the House Armed Services Committee why it could not, under the law, provide benefits to the families of troops who die during the government shutdown. Congress had passed a law — the Pay Our Military Act — that it thought would ensure the provision of death benefits during a shutdown. But Robert Hale, the Defense Department’s Comptroller, earnestly contended that a parsing of the statutory language did not support making such payments. (Congress now has passed a new statute, which President Obama signed, to make sure payments occur).
Even from an administration inclined to follow the letter of the law, Hale’s testimony would have caused eye-rolling. From the Obama administration, it’s an occasion for guffaws.
This is a crew that refused to define the military takeover in Egypt as a “coup” within the meaning of a statute that requires a cutoff of military aid in the event of a coup. Obama’s principal deputy press secretaries explained that “it is not in the best interests of the United States to reach a determination on a coup.”
In short, the extent to which the wording of laws determines how the Obama administration will behave depends on its view of the nation’s “best interests.” Apparently, until a stink was raised, Team Obama did not find it in our best interests to provide death benefits to families of troops who die serving our country.