Draft bill dies on House floor

Despite months of rumors that the war in Iraq would bring back a military draft, several congressional officials said last week that it will not be reinstated.

A Democratic bill that would have required "all young persons in the United States, including women, [to] perform a period of military service or a period of civilian service" died on the floor of the House of Representatives Oct. 6, with 402 congressmen voting against it and two voting in favor. It would have required two years of service.

Before the vote, House Republicans placed the bill on the "suspension calendar," which is usually used for bills that lack controversy. Brynn Barnett, spokeswoman for Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.), said this move was meant to dispel rumors of a Republican plan to bring back the draft.

"[The bill] wasn't going to be considered in committee, and the leadership basically wanted to underscore that there is no possibility of the draft being reinstated," Barnett said.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), whose office did not return calls for comment, introduced the legislation in January 2003. He voted against it Oct. 6.

"I am voting no, because my bill deserves serious consideration," Rangel said in a statement. "[Republicans] are using the suspension calendar, which is reserved for noncontroversial items, to make a cynical political statement."

There has not been a military draft since 1973. Currently, almost all American men between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register with the Selective Service, which "would provide manpower to the military by conducting a draft using a list of young men's names gathered through the Selective Service registration process," the agency's Web site said.

AU freshman Beth Soderberg said she was glad the bill failed.

"I have a problem with the draft in general," said Soderberg, who is in the College of Arts and Sciences. "I don't think you should be forced to serve a country for a reason you don't agree with."

Others said the vote helped assure them that the draft was not coming back.

"I don't think it would be fair to take people out of college and send them to the Army," said Johanna Teske, a freshman in CAS. "It makes me feel a little more secure in my life now, since there's not going to be a major change like being drafted."

Michael Wagner, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs, said that while the issue is important, he was not worried about the draft coming back because there was little support for the idea in Congress or with President Bush and his opponent, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

"I'd say the vote and the bill itself showcased enough that it's not a serious concern," Wagner said.

While he thinks the current all-volunteer military is the best system, Wagner said, "If there was a draft, I would not avoid a call to service."

The two congressmen who voted in favor of the bill are both Democrats: John Murtha of Pennsylvania and Pete Stark of California.

"I thought the bill was good a year and a half ago, and I still think it's a good bill," said Stark, who was one of its co-sponsors. He said the legislation would not have necessarily reinstated the draft - it would have just authorized the president to bring it back if he wanted.

"I believe every person could do a couple years in the service - hopefully not violent service," Stark said.

If everyone had a chance of fighting in a war, he said, Congress would be forced to think more about involving the U.S. military in conflict. Now, for parents whose children are not at risk, "war is like Pac-Man. It's sterile," he said.

"I don't think poor people should be stuck in a lottery where they have to choose between education or execution," Stark said.

Murtha echoed this thought in a statement, which read, "I believe the burden of our defense should be shared by all Americans, not primarily by low- and middle-income young people who join the military because they can't find a decent job or because they need money to attend college under the GI bill."

Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) introduced a companion bill in the Senate in January 2003. It had no co-sponsors, and the Senate never voted on it. Hollings is retiring after this term.

"We were misled into Iraq, and now the commander in chief tells the troops they can't win," he said in an Oct. 6 statement. "Under these circumstances, I would vote against my own bill."

His press secretary, Ilene Zeldin, said Hollings does not plan to touch his bill again. "It's dead," she said. "Call it dead."

During the campaign, Kerry and other Democrats have repeatedly accused Bush of instituting the draft, while Bush has strenuously denied any intention to do so. On Friday, Kerry said that there is a "great potential" of Bush doing so if he is re-elected, The Washington Post reported.

Bush campaign spokeswoman Sharon Castillo said, that "there is not one iota of truth" to these rumors. "I think for John Kerry and his campaign to be spreading these Internet rumors is irresponsible," she said.

Castillo referred to an Oct. 5 statement in which Bush said, "If this bill were presented to me, I would veto it. ... I want every American to understand that, as long as I am president, there will be no draft."

Barnett, McHugh's spokeswoman, said that since the bill failed by so many votes, it is unlikely to come back in the near future.

"I would expect it to be very hard to overcome that margin," he said.

Stark said he did not know whether he would try to reintroduce the bill, but "if Kerry wins, it won't be necessary."

He added, "I still think the idea of universal service is a good idea, but it's an idea that should be talked about in a time of peace when people won't be so nervous about it"

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