October 09. 2013 5:00PM

Obama’s lowest moment: Denying military death benefits

We are in a partial government shutdown during which an estimated 83 percent of the government continues unabated. Before the shutdown, Congress passed a bill guaranteeing continued pay for all military personnel and civilian Defense employees. And on Saturday the Pentagon called 90 percent of its furloughed employees (350,000 people) back to work. Yet somehow the Obama administration claims that it is unable to process death benefits for the families of military personnel killed in service to this country. Appalling.

The Pentagon claims that the Pay Our Military Act does not authorize payments of death benefits, though the House leaders who wrote and passed it say it does. President Obama, by his silence, tacitly backs the Pentagon’s refusal to pay. That is all the more amazing given that the White House has authorized multiple delays of various provisions of the Affordable Care Act. All of those delays are technical violations of the law, issued by decree from the White House.

The President is perfectly willing to interpret broadly his own executive powers when such an interpretation confers political benefits directly upon him. But when it is within his power to confer death benefits upon the families of service personnel killed overseas, suddenly the President views himself as rendered powerless by the binding force of law — even though leaders in Congress say he is not so bound.

Sen. John McCain used this issue to attack House Republicans for the shutdown. But New Hampshire’s 1st District Rep. Carol Shea-Porter sees it more clearly. She correctly identified the culprit as the administration. In a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, she urged the Pentagon to interpret the Pay Our Military Act as broadly as possible, correctly noting that “Payment of these benefits is crucial to maintaining the morale, well-being, and the current and future readiness of our Armed Forces and our military families.”

Obama could order these payments with a single phone call. That he does not is a damning indictment of his character.