THE HOUSE Appropriations Committee is to vote this week on President Carter's request for the money to pay for draft registration. It would be grotesque to kill the measure in committee on an appropriations question.
To vote funds for draft registration is not a decision to reinstitute the draft. Today's circumstances do not warrant the draft. Registration concedes only one point -- that there may be very different circumstances, somewhere in an uncertain future, in which a draft might become necessary. Not many Americans would deny that the possibility exists. If the Appropriations Committee agrees that it exists, then it can hardly reject this small measure of preparation.
The committee does not have the luxury of debating this point in a vacuum. Whether Mr. Carter should have requested draft registration is an interesting question for discussion. But that is not the question before the Appropriations Committee. The president has in fact made the request, and the committee cannot deny it to him without denying him much more. The president has asked for registration in response to the Soveit invasion of a neighboring country. It is the first time that the Soveit Army has gone in force beyond the perimeter that it established in the aftermath of World War II.
If the committee votes down the registration money, it will be delivering the president a rebuff of enormous symbolic importance. It will be signaling to the world that while some response to the Soviets might be useful at some later moment, Congress sees no need to do anythng now that will create controversy in an election year. What does the Appropriations Committee think the Russian interpretation of that message might be? Or its effects on this county's allies?
The draft is a matter of intense and divided feeling among Americans. Fortunately, the committee is not being asked to proceed as far as voting on the draft itself. It is merely being asked to acknowledge that the world is a dangerous place for countries that grow careless of their interests abroad. The president has gone a little beyond words alone in his reaction to the latest use of Russian military power. He needs the support of Congress.