WASHINGTON — House lawmakers on Wednesday turned aside a new attempt to require women to register with the Selective Service, arguing that any changes should wait on a review of the entire draft system.
The move came as part of the House Armed Services Committee's debate on the annual defense authorization bill. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., pushed for the amendment to add women to the military draft as an issue of fairness.
"It's time to stop delaying the inevitable with parliamentary gymnastics," she said. "If it does come to a draft, men and women should be treated equally."
Under current law, all men ages 18 to 26 are required to register for possible involuntary military service with the Selective Service System. Women have always been exempt, and past legal challenges have pointed to restrictions placed on their military service as a reason for their exclusion.
But in the last year defense officials have opened up numerous combat jobs to women, which advocates say eliminates the need for exempting women from the draft.
The committee approved similar language last year during its authorization debate, but Republican leaders stripped the language from the measure on the House floor. Senate planners supported the idea but dropped the issue during negotiations between the two chambers.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said he opposed Speier’s latest push because lawmakers last year did include language requiring a review of the entire Selective Service System, arguing those findings could render any other changes irrelevant.
According to federal records, the agency's activities cost taxpayers roughly $23 million a year. But a 2012 Government Accountability Office report questioned whether the system could even provide a list of draftees to the Defense Department if called upon to do so.
Speier’s amendment failed by a vote of 33-28.
The full House is expected to vote on the committee’s draft of the annual authorization bill next month. The Senate Armed Services Committee was expected to unveil its draft Wednesday afternoon.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.