OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Sequestration creeps closer

The aide said that would cover all flights, including to Afghanistan, which could significantly cut down on the number of congressional trips, known as codels, during the next congressional recess. The move has the support of at least one House lawmaker, as Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) had written to BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRestoring fiscal sanity requires bipartisan courage GOP congressman slams primary rival for Ryan donations Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future MORE on Tuesday urging him to cancel all codels unless they were to visit troops in war zones.

It is still possible for House lawmakers to take trips with the suspension of military flights. But they would have to fly commercial.

As for the cuts themselves, there does not appear to be any reason to think they will be stopped before they take effect, although lawmakers are still hoping for a quick solution to reverse them soon after.

President Obama invited Republican and Democratic congressional leaders to the White House for a meeting on Friday, when sequestration begins. House lawmakers are continuing to introduce bills to replace the sequester, although none have a realistic chance of becoming law before Friday.

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee was the latest to introduce a plan, after two Republicans on the committee pushed separate bills earlier this week.

The Senate is also expected to take up Democratic and Republican plans on sequester this week, but both are expected to fail to reach the required 60 votes.

McKeon, Smith talk sequester together: Despite the pessimism on sequester, a small dose of bipartisan comity on sequestration could be found in the Fox News TV studios on Wednesday, where the top Democrat and Republican on the House Armed Services Committee made a joint appearance.

Fox News made the proposal of having them on air side-by-side, but both committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Smith, the ranking member, were happy to do so, according to aides.

The pair don’t see eye-to-eye on how to reduce the deficit — Smith believes additional tax revenues should be part of the solution — but both have long said the sequestration cuts that will hit Friday are a terrible idea and will harm the military.

Smith’s bill introduced on Wednesday would replace sequestration with targeted cuts over eight years of $167 billion from the defense budget and $153 billion from non-defense discretionary spending.

McKeon said he disagreed with the premise of Smith’s bill, but applauded him for his “courage” to propose a solution without new taxes.

“His caucus has been asking for tax increases, as has the president, and his proposal doesn’t push for tax increases,” McKeon said. “And that’s a brave position for him to take in his caucus.”

Smith said he appreciated the compliment, but wanted to say “for the record” that he also supported tax increases. “It’s just that’s a separate part of the equation,” Smith said.

Intel chiefs sound sequester alarm: While House lawmakers were consumed with taxpayer-funded junkets and being the picture of bipartisanship on television on sequestration, Pentagon intelligence chiefs warned the across-the-board cuts could set the United States up for another "major intelligence failure" like the 9/11 attacks. 

Undersecretary for Defense on Intelligence Michael Vickers and Defense Intelligence Agency chief Lt. Gen Michael Flynn sounded the sequester alarm during Wednesday's House Armed Services emerging threats and intelligence subpanel hearing. 

Department leaders are already planning to furlough nearly all of the Pentagon's 800,000-strong civilian workforce, with the DOD and the service chiefs eyeing forced retirements of uniformed personnel to meet the cuts outlined under sequestration. 

The problem is compounded, given the relatively small force DIA and DOD's overall intelligence apparatus has compared to the various services and larger organizations inside the Pentagon. DOD intelligence has just over 180,000 civilian and military personnel working under its banner, with nearly half of those employees being non-military, according to Vickers.

Under sequestration, Pentagon intelligence would be forced to furlough over half of its entire workforce. 

While DOD and civilian intelligence leaders will do what they can to offset sequestration's effect, Flynn said the cuts could set the stage for the "rehashing of another major intelligence failure" by the United States.

Defense and national security decision makers can't "appreciate the cost of missed intelligence" until it's gone via sequestration, the three-star general said. But even if DOD loses its ability to be the No. 1 military power in the world, would Americans even care? 

Polling numbers: According to a recent Gallup poll, the number of Americans who believe it is important for the U.S. to retain its No. 1 military status in the world has dropped significantly. 

Nearly 51 percent of all Americans believe the U.S. has sustained its status as a world military power, according to the poll released Wednesday. Only 62 percent of Americans believe that status is vital to the national security of the U.S. 

Both figures represent low points in American opinion regarding U.S. military might in the eyes of the international community. The 51 percent figure matches the previous low point in 1999 concerning the U.S. sustainment of military power. 

The 62 percent figure is only three points higher than the all-time low of 59 percent of Americans in 1999 who thought U.S.military might was key to the country's standing in the world. 

Unsurprisingly, the figures come just as $500 billion in automatic budget cuts are set to hit the military, a cut former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress would make the U.S. a "second-tier power."

In Case You Missed It: 

— DOD intel chiefs sound sequester alarm

— Boehner blocks congressional trips

— Dems unveil bill to arm Syrians 

— Top HASC Dem pitches sequester plan

Please send tips and comments to Jeremy Herb, jherb@thehill.com, and Carlo Muñoz, cmunoz@thehill.com.

Follow us on Twitter: @DEFCONHill, @JHerbTheHill, @CMunozTheHill

You can sign up to receive this overnight update via email on The Hill’s homepage.