By Carlo Muñoz and Jeremy Herb - 09/26/13 10:18 PM EDT
Countdown to shutdown: The countdown to a shutdown marched forward on Thursday with no resolution yet in sight on Capitol Hill as the Pentagon and other federal agencies readied their government shutdown plans.
Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale will provide a briefing on Friday to outline “contingency plan guidance for a potential lapse in government appropriations.”
The Defense Department is expected to follow the planning it had prepared in 2011, the last time the government nearly shut down.
That means that roughly half of Pentagon civilians would be furloughed next Tuesday if the government shuts down, depending on who is deemed “essential.” Service members would continue to work, but their pay would be delayed until the shutdown ends.
During the shutdown of the 1990s, federal employees who were furloughed received back pay, but that requires an act of Congress — and there’s no guarantee that will happen this time around.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate was moving toward voting on a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wanted to hold a cloture vote to end debate on the bill on Thursday, but Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) objected.
That sparked a major intra-party clash on the Senate floor between Cruz and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), after Corker accused them of risking a shutdown on a publicity stunt.
“The reason you don’t want to send a bill over to the House, who could possibly put in place some very good policies for us here, is that you want the American people and the outside groups that you’ve been in contact with to be able to watch us tomorrow,” Corker said to Cruz and Lee.
In the House, meanwhile, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that the House is unlikely to accept a clean CR from the Senate when the upper chamber sends over its government funding measure.
“I don’t see that happening,” Boehner told reporters Thursday.
The Senate will begin votes on the CR on Friday afternoon, first for cloture and then to vote on an amendment to restore funding for ObamaCare to the bill, before passing the bill.
Business as usual, says NSA: The threat of a government shutdown will not stop ongoing intelligence operations at the National Security Agency.
As the rest of Washington counts down the hours until Oct. 1, it will remain business as usual at the agency.
"A shutdown would be unlikely to affect core NSA operations," a government official familiar with the plans told The Hill on Thursday.
On Friday, the Pentagon plans to lay out its slate of contingency measures should the federal government shut down on Monday.
Those measures will likely include furloughs of civilian DOD employees and possible delays in pay and benefits for service members.
But what will not be affected are operations designed to "protect life and property," according to DOD plans issued in 2011 — the last time Congress and the White House squared off over a possible shutdown.
That plan, outlined in a memo by then-Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn III, exempted "intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities required to support national or military requirements necessary for national security," according to the memo.
The memo did state, however, that intelligence gathering "not in direct support of excepted activities" would be subject to the shutdown. But the government official said most NSA operations would likely not fall under that restriction.
Afghan post-war force comes into focus: Afghan leaders are coalescing around a final number of U.S. forces to remain in country after American and coalition forces withdraw next year.
That total post-war force will likely end up around 10,000 soldiers, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul said Thursday. That number will be a mix of American and NATO forces, he added during an interview with CNN.
"We're in discussions with United States on a security agreement to which a number, a limited number of United States forces and also other NATO forces would stay in Afghanistan," according to Rassoul.
That figure matches rough troop estimates circulating on Capitol Hill.
"My hunch is it’s going to be below 10,000," Senate Armed Services Committee chief Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said earlier this month during a breakfast in Washington.
That number should be enough to provide counterterrorism and air support for Afghan forces, while continuing the U.S. military training mission in the country, Levin said at the time.
But any suggested troop number could be irrelevant if a bilateral security agreement cannot be reached between Kabul and Washington.
Fraying relations between Washington and the Karzai government have cast serious doubt over whether a postwar deal could be reached.
The Obama administration revived the “zero option” plan to leave no U.S. troops in the country after 2014 after a contentious meeting with Karzai in July.
But top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan ruled out that zero option in recent weeks.
“We have no indication whatsoever of a withdrawal completely from Afghanistan,” Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, the No. 2 commander of all U.S. and coalition forces in country, told reporters at the Pentagon in August.
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