Funds requested by President Carter to register young men for possible military service squeaked through the House Appropriations Committee yesterday by a vote of 26 to 23.
Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) said a head count of the full House looks good and that he "would be surprised" if the money bill fails to pass when taken up next week. But it has had tough going in the Appropriations Committee for two months, first failing by a tie vote in subcommittee and then finally making it yesterday only after weeks of work lining up votes.
Its fate is also uncertain in the Senate.
The administration had opposed premobilization registration until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Carter then told Congress in his January State of the Union address that he would order registration of men and asked for funds for that. He also asked for authority and funds to register women. The proposal to register women died in the House Armed Services Committee. The $13,295,000 approved yesterday is the amount requested to start up the machinery to register young men only.
Supporters say the funds should be voted to demonstrate to the Soviets America's resolve to resist their takeover of the Persian Gulf. Opponents contend registration now would be a meaningless gesture that would not significantly speed up mobilization should the need arise and is likely to send a negative message by stirring up dissension among young men subject to registration.
Rep. Edward Boland (D-Mass.), manager of the bill, called it "terribly important to the national security" to register young men now, to have available 4 million names that could be available for military service immediately if needed. "Nobody knows what will happen in Iran," he said. "Nobody can tell me you can put postmobilization into effect within a few days."
But Rep. Silvio Conte (Mass.), senior Republican on the committee, opposed registration now, on grounds that registration alone would be worthless without classification and physical exams and that the list would soon be made obsolete by the movement from one address to another of the 19 and 20-year-old youths.
Opponents said registration now would save only seven to 14 days in case of emergency. Supporters quoted generals as saying it would take 72 days for registration after an emergency arose. Opponents notes that millions were registered in a single day at the start of World Wars I and II.
Rep. Lawrence Coughlin (R-Pa.) opposed funds for registration now as an empty gesture that would be recognized as such by the Soviet Union but would cause complacency in the United States.
Rep. Martin Sabo (D-Minn.) read from an administration report last year when it was opposed to registration. It said then that post-mobilization registration would be "most cost-effective and least intrusive" and was the option preferred by Selective Service.
Rep. Jack Edwards (Ala.), senior Republican on the Appropriations defense subcommittee, said he was supporting the $13.2 million request not because of Afghanistan or a desire to support Carter or to send signals, but because the military services are having such "terrible manpower problems" -- which include docking Navy vessels for lack of crew -- that he would support "anything we can do to get people in the service when they are needed."
Rep. Joseph Addabbo (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee, opposes registration now. But he left the meeting during the vote rather than vote against Boland.