WASHINGTON — The GOP-led Senate Armed Services Committee has seconded a call by its counterpart in the House to require women to register for a military draft, setting the stage for a significant cultural change triggered by the Pentagon's decision to lift all gender-based restrictions on front-line combat units.
Any justification for barring women from draft registration was erased last year when the Pentagon announced all military jobs would be open to women, the committee said late Thursday in a summary of its annual defense policy bill. Women must begin to sign up with the Selective Service beginning in January 2018, according to the committee's measure.
The committee added that the top officers in each of the military branches also expressed their support for including women in a potential draft during testimony before Congress.
The United States has not had a military draft since 1973, in the Vietnam War era, but all men must register with the Selective Service within 30 days of turning 18. Women have never been required to register and have never been part of a wide-scale draft.
Prospects for a draft are dim. Military leaders maintain that the all-volunteer force is working and do not want to return to conscription.
Despite agreement by both committees, a provocative debate is expected when the legislation is considered in the full Senate and House. There's already been a preview.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he believes most Americans don't want women to be drafted. Despite his objections, Hunter proposed — and then voted against — an amendment requiring women to register that was narrowly adopted by the House Armed Services Committee in late April.
Hunter said he offered the measure to force a discussion about how the Pentagon's decision to void gender restrictions on military service failed to consider whether the exclusion on drafting women also should be lifted. He argued the call should be made by Congress.
The White House has declined to say whether President Barack Obama would sign into law legislation that expands the draft to include women.
Overall, the Senate committee provides $602 billion in fiscal year 2017 for the Defense Department and for nuclear weapons programs managed by Energy Department.
The Senate committee did not follow the House panel's lead and shift $18 billion in wartime spending to pay for additional weapons and troops to reverse what Republicans and a number of Democrats have called a crisis in the U.S. military's combat readiness. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the Armed Services Committee chairman, is planning to propose a strategy for securing additional money for the military when the full Senate takes up the bill. That could happen as early as next week.
The committee did identify $3 billion in savings from the defense budget proposed by the Obama administration "and redirected those funds toward critical needs of our warfighters," according to the summary. The committee also added $2 billion for additional training, depot maintenance and weapons sustainment.
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