Nightly News   |  October 09, 2013

Charity steps in, allowing Senate to ignore military benefits bill

The shutdown has quickly turned military benefits into a political issue. Democrats say that unless House Republicans agree to re-open the whole government, they will not approve one program at a time. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports.

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>> in congress, in washington , it was the politics of this death benefit and the broader shutdown that played out for most of this day again today in congress largely an exercise, as you saw, in damage control. nb nbc's kelly o'donnell.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. it is congress's job to fix this mistake but nothing was simple today. with the t private group stepping in, that took the political pressure off. that group will pay the benefit and when the government re opens it will be reimbursed. because that charity acted it gave the senate a chance to do nothing to solve the problem.

>> how dare we not provide grieving families with the necessary support in their time of need ?

>> reporter: today, every house democrat and every house republican vote ed to guarantee military death benefit benefits. but what seemed like a quick washington solution spiralled into politics. even the senate chaplain , a re tired admiral, weighed in.

>> it is time for our lawmakers to say enough is enough.

>> were you trying to jolt lawmakers with your prayers?

>> well, i was trying to express what some of them have ex pressed and felt. that at some point you have to draw the line. at some point you have to say enough is enough.

>> reporter: the shutdown, many complained, has politicized a group beloved by both parties -- the military. one of the families of the fallen soldiers d anywayed benefits is from pennsylvania.

>> even for washington , that's unusual that veterans or children or soldiers are used as kind of a political strategy to make a point.

>> reporter: a pawn?

>> in many instances, yeah. i would agree they are.

>> reporter: while democratic leader harry reid insisted the death benefits would come back.

>> they will be restored without question .

>> reporter: reid made a strategic choice today.

>> open the government.

>> reporter: the senate ignored the new military benefits bill that would fix the problem. why? because democrats say unless house republicans agree to re-open the whole government, democrats will not approve one program at a time. even death benefits for families of fallen soldiers. a hearing with the secretary of veterans affairs , a tea party republican from kansas made it personal.

>> find this a difficult question to ask. do you think senator reid doesn't like our veterans or the v.a. in particular?

>> reporter: an awkward silence followed.

>> personally, i think he very highly values veterans.

>> reporter: i told leader reid about the provocative exchange. what is your response to that, sir?

>> it doesn't -- i can't dig any identify that with a response.

>> reporter: you get an idea of the tone around here, even when it comes to veterans and their families. some praised secretary hagel and the administration for coming up with the solution and also say if the charity hadn't stepped forward the senate would have passed the bill. brian?

>> kelly o'donnell from the hill,