Mention reactivating the military draft to lawmakers and they treat the term like a four-letter word.
"The last thing we need is a draft," said Rep. G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery, D-Miss., chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.The possibility of reinstituting the draft after a 17-year absence has been raised in recent congressional hearings and editorial columns.
Former military officials have suggested that if President Bush decides to use military force to oust Iraq from Kuwait, draft notices should go out immediately to avoid troop shortages.
Lawmakers have questioned whether the Pentagon's decision to put a rotation policy on hold and wait before transferring forces in and out of the gulf region would require a draft.
By January, U.S. troops in the area will total more than 440,000 of the nearly 2.1 million active duty forces worldwide.
The Selective Service System remains in operation and all men must register with it within 30 days of their 18th birthdays, but actual conscription ended in 1973 with the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.
Members of Congress with a powerful say on the issue, however, said in interviews last week that there is little or no support for a draft among their constituents at home or lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
"It wouldn't fly anywhere. It wouldn't get off the ground," said Montgomery, a decorated Army veteran of World War II and Korea.
Montgomery, best known as the father of the latest GI Bill that expanded health, education and housing benefits for the military, said the all-volunteer force is "doing the job."
"The last thing we need is a draft. There are still a lot of units to call up. It would really put the country in uproar. It's really not necessary at all," Montgomery said.
Sen. John McCain, ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on manpower and personnel, suggested that those mentioning a draft are using the issue to undercut Bush's policy.
"People who are the opponents of action in the Persian Gulf are raising it as a straw man," said McCain, who believes the present U.S. force is sufficient. "I don't think the American people want reinstitution of a draft."
Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, chairman of the manpower and personnel subcommittee, said he opposes a draft for now but that the United States must keep its options open if the crisis persists.
If Bush finds it difficult to sustain a force of more than 440,000 in the gulf after a year, "either you cut a force of that size or rotate people," Glenn said.
Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Wash., a member of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said another situation - a drawn-out war in the gulf - might require reactivation of the draft.
"Should hostilities break out and go on for a while, I see a scenario where people start saying consider a draft," Dicks said.