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GOP Seeks to End Draft Talk

Seeking to neutralize a potentially dangerous election year issue, House Republican leaders on Tuesday moved to quash speculation that their party privately favors reinstating a military draft.

Responding to rumors on the Internet — fueled by Democratic hints of a “secret” Bush administration plan to revive the draft — House Republicans brought up a bill sponsored by Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) to reinstitute the draft in order to inoculate themselves on the issue. The measure failed, 402 to 2, with most Republicans and Democrats voting against it.

“It just got a little too much to handle,” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said of the relentless stream of rumors about a future draft.

Indeed, Members of both parties complained that they’ve been asked by constituents about e-mails circulating that say the draft will begin in June 2005 and “will include all men and ‘ALL WOMEN’ from ages 18-26 in a draft for military action.”

The House vote follows on the heels of President Bush’s statement in last Friday’s debate that the military will remain “all-voluntary,” and Vice President Cheney’s comments to a crowd in Ohio last week that the draft rumor is just an urban legend.

In addition to Rangel’s bill, Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) has also offered a measure to implement compulsory military service. Until yesterday, however, neither measure was expected to see action this year. Even proposals by Democrats and Republicans to increase the size of the military through more vigorous volunteer recruitment have made little headway, despite criticism from both parties that the U.S. military is stretched too thin around the world.

Still, Democrats, including presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), have implied that Bush is getting ready to push a reinstitution of the draft if he wins the Nov. 2 election.

At a recent Florida campaign rally, Kerry responded to a question about his position on the draft by saying he could not rule out the possibility that Bush would implement the draft in a second term.

“If George Bush were to be re-elected, given the way he has gone about this war and given his avoidance of responsibility in North Korea and Iran and other places, it is possible. I can’t tell you. I will tell you this — I will not reinstate the draft,” said Kerry.

And House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) did little to quiet the rumor mill yesterday, insisting that he had talked to an unnamed Member of Congress who had seen a Bush administration memo on their plan to restore the draft.

“There is some talk about a plan that exists,” said Hoyer. “This is the administration doing this. I don’t think anybody [in Congress] wants to do that.”

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, moved aggressively yesterday to shift the focus, blaming Democrats for spreading what they say is no more than a rumor.

“We had almost no choice but to interrupt our limited schedule [this week] to expose the Kerry campaign for the fraud it is,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.). “It’s the lowest, slimiest of campaign tactics.”

Kingston said he had even seen a South Carolina Democratic Party mailing that asks voters to register using the threat of a military draft as a reason to get involved in politics.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (R-Va.) also blamed Democrats.

“It’s a subterranean myth that has been perpetrated by the Democrats,” said Allen.

He applauded the House’s decision to take a vote on the issue.

“Sometimes when you say ‘no’ you want to put an exclamation point on it,” Allen said.

Still, Democrats argued that President Bush has made a draft almost inevitable because his decision to send troops into Iraq made it harder for the U.S. military to respond to other world events.

“The administration is on the verge of stretching the military so thin that they won’t be as responsive to crises as they were two years ago,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

Other Democrats, including Rangel, warned that Bush’s re-election would almost certainly result in a mandatory military draft.

“It’s clear that if George Bush is re-elected, we are going to have a draft in this country,” said Rep. Jim McDermott (R-Wash.). He added that Republicans are “worried because [voter] registrations are going up” as a result of the issue.

Even MTV’s “Rock the Vote” young voter registration drive got in on the act, putting out a statement Monday saying: “While President Bush claims that the army will remain ‘all volunteer,’ and Kerry talks of a ‘backdoor draft’ for many current troops — neither candidate has addressed this issue beyond the occasional sound byte. We want political candidates for all Federal offices to level with a generation that may be called to service. … The military is already stretched to capacity in Iraq and Afghanistan. Should the situation deteriorate dramatically, or should another military crisis arise, the United States could face no choice but to reinstate a draft.”

Rangel said he never intended to actually revive the draft with his bill, offering in a release on Tuesday, “The Administration should come and tell us about our manpower needs, about recruitment and retention, about the extent to which out troops are overextended. And they should give us their views about shared sacrifice. If they did all of those things in a serious way, they would have to admit that my bill is an option.”

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