President Carter's plan to register women for the draft already appears dead, and now his proposal to register men is in grave danger as well.
This came through quite clearly yesterday as one legislator after another on a House appropriations subcommittee ridiculed Carter's call for registration as an empty gesture.
After the hearing, Rep. Joseph M. McDade (R-Pa.) predicted the subcommittee would refuse to approve money even to register males unless Chairman Edward P. Boland (D-Mass.) and the administration found a better way to package the proposal.
Boland, during the course of the hearing, said Carter's plan to register women is already "down the drain" because the House Armed Services Committee has no intention of approving the required legislation.
Although Carter needs special legislation to register women for the draft, he can order men to register through executive order. But administration officials have said the mechanics of registration requires extra money from Congress that the president cannot provide on his own.
John P. White, deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, in making a plea for this money yesterday, conceded the administration is no longer counting on getting money to register both men and women born in 1960 and 1961 in one bill.But even this men-only approach was challenged.
"This whole program is kind of a useless gesture that is going to send a signal to the American people that we're doing something -- and we're not," complained Rep. Lawrence Coughlin of Pennsylvania, ranking Republican on the subcommittee handling Selective Service appropriations.
"If I were a high school teacher giving a grade," continued Coughlin as he held aloft a copy of the White House report on registration and other man-power issues, "I'd give that a flunk." He said the report failed to answer adequately several of the questions asked by Congress, including national service for young people.
After hearing White and other administration witnesses testify that Carter's call for registration was part of his effort to demonstrate American resolve in the face of Soviet aggression, Rep. Bob Traxler (D-Mich.) said: "I doubt whether this whimper can be heard beyond this room, far less overseas."
Traxler, an Army veteran, said it made no sense to register men without examining them to see if they were fit for duty -- the classification process. Carter's plan merely would require men and women to fill out forms at their local post offices.
"Classification is absolutely essential to fulfill the government's rationable for registration," said Traxler.
McDade said the subcommittee was interested in "meaningful steps," not symbolism. "We've been through the Gulf of Tonkin," he told White. "We look at these things with jaundiced eyes."
"I fail to understand what the advantages are of going through this registration," said Rep. Martin O. Sabo (D-Minn.). It would take "a minimum of 90 days" to train a draftee to be a soldier, he said. This makes Carter's plan of saving seven days by registering people in advance of an emergency look like a waste of money, he said. Selective Service has said it would lose only seven days by waiting until after a national emergency to start registering people.
Also, continued Sabo, the Pentagon could train only a fraction of the 650,000 people it could induct within the first 30 days of an emergency, meaning "we are speeding the process up so we have people on lists waiting for training spots to become available."
Other skeptical comments focused on the fact that Selective Service itself, in its Jan. 16 report sent to the White House, recommended against the registration plan Carter has adopted. Selective Service Director Bernard D. Rostker said yesterday that Carter's proposal "removed the uncertainty of the contingency plan" advocated in the draft report.
The administration is seeking an extra $45 million in fiscal 1980 and 1981 funds to finance registration of men and women. The subcommittee is expected to vote this week on the requests.