Congress is considering the massive National Defense Authorization Act that sets policy and authorizes spending for the military. One issue generating some controversy this year is a provision that would require women to register for the draft when they turn 18.
It has a been a rite of passage for young men for decades. When they turn 18 they have to register with the Selective Service System just in case Congress decides to again implement a draft for military service.
No one has been drafted into the military since 1973, but every year about two million young men sign up. Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine says she is supporting the language in the bill from the Senate Armed Services Committee requiring women to register for the first time.
“So in some ways this is a theoretical debate, but I for one will be voting to retain the requirement to require both women and men to register. I think that is a matter of equity,” she says.
Collins says in the past women were excluded from serving in certain positions, most notably in combat roles, but under current policy women can serve in any military position, including those involved in combat. Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, says all of the women on the panel support the proposal and so does he, although he says he does not see the draft being implemented.
“We’re committed to the all-volunteer army, which is the all-volunteer military, which is where we are now, it has given us the most highly skilled, able military in the world, probably the history of the world,” he says. “I think the reason the selective system is still there is it’s kind of an insurance policy — in case of emergency, break glass.”
The House version of the authorization bill was passed last month and does not include the draft provision for women. U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the Republican chairman of the panel, says the big question should be whether to continue the draft at all, not whether women should have to register.
The Selective Service System has more than a hundred employees and costs over $23 million a year to operate.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District, a Democrat, says if the draft is going to be continued, it should apply to both women and men.
“If we’re going to have registration, the selective service registration, there is no reason not to include women as well as men,” she says. “We now allow women to go into combat and I think this is just a provision to try and show that we treat men and women equally when it comes to the military.”
Pingree says once the Senate passes its version of the legislation, the House and Senate will have to work out a compromise bill. She believes with the strong Senate support for the draft provision, the House will go along.
Attempts to reach U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District for comment on the proposal were unsuccessful.