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House Stands Down on Women in the Draft

Provision requiring women to enroll is removed from defense bill amendments

An amendment to the defense spending plan, currently in the House, would have made women subject to a draft. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
An amendment to the defense spending plan, currently in the House, would have made women subject to a draft. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A congressional debate over whether women should be required to sign up for the draft just became a lot less likely due to a procedural maneuver that has rankled at least one high-ranking proponent.  

“This is a dead-of-night attempt to take an important issue off the table, and I think people will probably see through this tactic,” House Armed Services ranking Democrat Adam Smith of Washington said Tuesday.  

A rule dictating the scheduling of amendments to the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill struck provisions that would have required women to register with the Selective Service System and instead requires the Defense Department to study the future need for a centralized draft system and whether it should include women.  

The full House on Tuesday approved a roster of amendments to be considered that included the new selective service provision.  

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The change would avoid a potentially contentious debate when the House and Senate meet to reconcile their two versions of the bills later this year. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the measure, approved by that panel last week , would open draft registration to women, an issue that some have described as the natural extension of the Pentagon’s decision in December that it would open all combat roles to women.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that while he doesn’t anticipate a return to the draft, he does believe that women should register for the selective service.  

Related: Related: John McCain Joins Call to Register Women for the Draft There’s no expectation that the U.S. military will return to conscription any time soon. And with only one bill containing the measure, the largely theoretical discussion will likely take a backseat to more immediate spending proposals.  

The change in the House bill came about through a procedural maneuver by Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas, who introduced self-executing language downgrading the draft requirement as part of a rule governing floor debate.  

Upon adoption, the rule automatically modifies the bill to strike provisions that would require women between the ages of 18 and 26 to register for the draft. The rule also requires the Defense secretary to submit to Congress a report on the current and future need for a centralized registration system for military Selective Service and whether it should include women.  

Related: Women, Grab Your Rifles By including Sessions’ language as part of the rule, lawmakers will avoid debating or casting a separate vote on the potentially thorny topic.  

Smith called the situation “exceptional.”  

“The Rules Committee chairman is so concerned about a vote on women’s equality in the military that he has created a provision ‘considered as adopted’ that overturns a measure voted on by the Armed Services Committee, ignores the mandatory scoring requirement, and passes itself, avoiding a separate vote by the full House,” he said.  

Related: Mixed Reaction to Women in the Draft In a surprise vote last month, the House Armed Services Committee voted 32-30 to approve an amendment from California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter that would require women to register for the Selective Service.  

Hunter said he offered the amendment to spark discussion on the Obama administration’s decision late last year to open combat positions to women. But he said he personally opposed the idea, and he voted against his own amendment. But it passed with the backing of Democrats and a handful of Republicans, including Personnel Subcommittee Chairman Joe Heck of Nevada.  

Related: Drive to Draft Women Going Nowhere Right Now The package on the floor this week will include at least some discussion of gender in the military. An amendment proposed by Rep. Grace Meng , D-N.Y., and Rep. Martha McSally , R-Ariz. would require the Government Accountability Office to report on admissions practices and gender composition of the military service academies.  

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