Controversy accompanied the subject.
Republicans said Congress had passed and Obama had signed legislation last week to permit the payments, but the Defense Department said otherwise. As Republican leaders were pushing toward a vote on the bill making it explicit, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a charity would pick up the death benefit costs instead.
In a delicate minuet, Pentagon officials said they were not permitted to solicit the funds, but could accept an offer if one were made unbidden. That eased the pressure on Senate Democrats and the White House, who have generally refused to support measures to ease the impact of the partial shutdown without ending the disruption entirely.
In the House, Speaker Boehner of Ohio sat down with the Democratic leader, Pelosi of California, and their seconds-in-command.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said, “Reps. Pelosi and Hoyer (Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat) asked for the meeting, and as we’ve stated publicly, we’re willing to meet with any Democratic leader who is willing to talk.”
Pelosi issued a statement saying, “Yesterday, when I was asked by the Speaker to meet today. ...”
Not surprisingly, perhaps, neither side reported any progress toward compromise after the 45-minute session.
There was more snarling about a White House invitation to House Republicans for a meeting on Thursday.
All 232 House GOP lawmakers were invited, yet Republicans said only 18 would attend, a delegation comprised of members of the leadership and committee heads.
Speaking on behalf of the commander in chief, White House press secretary Jay Carney seemed less than pleased.
“President Obama is disappointed that Speaker Boehner is preventing his members from coming to the White House,” he said.
Even the Democrats, generally united, had trouble getting along.
Senate Democrats used the Senate steps as a backdrop to pressure Republicans to end the partial shutdown.
But Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray, a Democrat, was off-message. He urged Democrats at least to pass legislation allowing the city to use its own tax receipts during the partial shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., offered some advice to His Honor.
“I’m on your side. Don’t screw it up, OK?” he was overheard saying.