President Carter launched a rescue operation for draft registration yesterday by inviting the House Appropriations Committee to a briefing at the White House.
The 54-member committee is expected to vote this week on whether to provide money to enable Carter to begin registering 19- and 20-year-olds for the draft this year.
The vote of the full committee is crucial because a subcommittee, on a 6-to-6 split last week, refused to approve money for registering people before a national emergency is declared.
Carter himself did not attend the briefing in the Blue Room on the first floor of the White House. The presentation was made instead by Defense Secretary Harold Brown; Air Force Gen. David C. Jones, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and John P. White, deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Brown has said that if men are required to register, so should women. But Carter administration officials have given up on their request that Congress authorize registration of women, and have narrowed their request to obtain $13 million this year to register men and modernize the Selective Service System.
In making the argument for registering this year men born in 1960 and 1961, as well as modernizing Selective Service, Brown told the lawmakers at the White House that this would send "an important and immediate" signal "of national resolve" to the Soviet Union.
He added, according to an aide, that rejecting the president's request for registration funds would, as an aide relayed his remarks, project "an especially negative symbol of U.S. resolve."
The Selective Service agency, in a report dated jan. 16, recommended waiting until after an emergency before starting to register people at their local post offices. It would cost an extra $14 million and gain only seven days by going into immediate registration, as Carter is recommending. Selective Service said.
Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio), a member of the Appropriations subcommittee who opposed Carter's request and attended yesterday's briefing, said Brown, Jones and White all stressed that Selective Service had been overly optimistic in estimating how quickly it could register people after mobilization.
"There wasn't a thing new," Stokes said of the administration arguments made yesterday. Although his mind was not changed, Stokes said it was "hard to tell" whether any key votes had been won over to the administration's side.
Members did not discuss the briefing after leving the White House, Stokes said. Several members of the House Armed Services attended the White House briefing as well.
While Carter and House Democratic leaders tried to rescue the draft registration money bill, opponents hit back with a series of "Dear Colleague" letters.
One of them, signed by Stokes, Reps. Martin Olav Sabo (D-Minn.). Lawrence Coughlin (R-Pa.) and Joseph M. MdDade (R-Pa.), said the Carter registration plan "is an empty symbol because it adds nothing to the speed of American mobilization in the event of war."
The Pentagon has conceded, the letter said, that the training camps could not handle all the draftees who would be produced by either the Carter or Selective Service registration plans. Therefore, continued the letter, the seven-day saving of the Carter plan "is illusory."
Gen. Jones, according to one congressman, who attended yesterday's White House briefing said: "We have to ask our young people to do something, even it's just going to the post office [to register for the draft]."
Coughlin, ranking Republican on the Appropriations subcommittee, said, "I thought it was significant that no one from Selective Service participated in the briefing."