Congress passes National Guard paid leave bill

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill Thursday to give paid leave benefits back to National Guard members, including 2,000 from Minnesota, that would have vanished under new Pentagon regulations. 

The Senate’s passage comes days after the House did the same. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. John Kline, goes to President Obama for his signature.

While 2,000 members of the Minnesota National Guard and 49,000 other soldiers were serving in the Middle East last fall, the Pentagon instituted a new paid leave policy that would have cut into the paid leave time the soldiers had been promised before they deployed. Klobuchar’s bill would restore those benefits for soldiers deployed during the change in policy, allowing soldiers to use the leave days to spend time with their family or find employment.

“Now is not the time to cut the leave benefits of people who have been promised the leave and push them out to find their own way,” Klobuchar said in a floor speech before the bill passed. “When the men and women of our armed services signed up, they did it for the right reasons. They are patriotic, they put their life on the line for our country and the least that we can do is keep the promises that we made.”

Klobuchar and Kline worked with the Pentagon to extend the benefits to the soliders, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta supported the move, but asked Congress to pass legislation doing so.

 The House passed the bill unanimously on Tuesday night. Kline released  a statement Thursday afternoon praising the Minnesota delegation for “[putting] partisan politics aside and worked together to ensure our sons and daughters in uniform received the benefits they were promised.”

Devin Henry can be reached at dhenry@minnpost.com.

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