President Carter's proposal to require women to register for the draft will be stopped in its tracks early next month, the House chairman handling the legislation said yesterday.
Chairman Richard C. White (D-Tex.) of the House military personnel subcommittee, in making that prediction in an interview, added that it will then be up to Carter to decree registration of men only by executive order.
Congress is in no mood to mandate registration of men, far less women, White said, because the White House "fought us tooth and nail last year" when the House Armed Services Committee approved a bill to register 18-year-old males.
Only the registration of women, not men, requires congressional action. Since the idea of registering women has no chance of becoming law, White said, the path is clear for Carter to proceed on his own with the male registration he opposed last year.
The reason for Carter's turnaround on draft registration, White theorized, is that administration officials "saw it as a political plus" against the backdrop of the crises in Iran and Afghanistan.
However, White contended, Carter's request to Congress to pass legislation to permit the registration of women as well as men "eroded that message of strength he was trying to send."
"It just shows other countries that the Americans have to go to women to do their fighting," White said, "The American people were prepared to register men. Now the president has confused the situation" by calling for the registration of women and given opponents time to mobilize, he said.
White said his poll of his panel showed a 6-to-3 vote against registering women. The formal subcommittee voting on legislation to authorize registration of women probably will occur the first week in March, he said.
In White's view, the only way the House or the Senate would get to vote on registering women this year would be if a bill appropriating money for the Selective Service System specified that the money could not be spent for registering men only.
The Justice Department, White said, has concluded after a lengthy study that registering men but not women "does not place the registration of men under constitutional attack." He said he has been informed of that conclusion, but has not yet received the study.
White's assessment of the registration issue came after a morning hearing, where Selective Service Director Bernard D. Rostker came under heavy fire from the House military personnel subcommittee in making the administration's first case before Congress for registering women.
"It doesn't make sense to register these vast numbers of people when we don't need them," Rep. Marjorie S. Holt (R-Md.) said of the proposal to register women. She said it would amount to registering 6 million women for 19,000 vacancies in today's army.
"If we're not using them in combat arms, I don't see any point in it at all," Holt said.
"It's not necessarily a matter of mathematics," Rostker replied. "It's a matter of equity. It is a question of whether women should bear equal risk of being called."
Carter first called for draft registration without specifying the inclusion of women in last month's State of the Union address. Later, he said it would be "inequitable to limit the burden of compulsory service to men."
Under Carter's plan, everyone born in 1960 or 1961 would go to the local Post Office and fill out a form stating name, address, sex, birth date and, at their option, Social Security number. No screening examinations would be given.
Rostker stressed yesterday that Carter has no intention of calling for conscription, which Congress would have to approve.
However, a spokesman said at a news conference yesterday that Students for a Libertarian Society would try "to shut down any registration system."
"There simply aren't enough jails to hold us," said Jeff Friedman, the society's eastern director.
The maximum fine for failing to register would be $10,000 and five years in prison, Rostker said.
The National Council of Churches said it opposes draft registration, while the U.S. Catholic Conference said it does not oppose it in principle but wants the government to present convincing reasons for registration.