The committee also noted that it was persuaded by the heads of the military services’ support for including women in the potential draft pool.
The military draft was suspended in the United States in 1973. But the Selective Service System has remained in place, requiring registration for a potential draft for those ages 18 to 25.
The proposed change is part of the Senate’s annual defense authorization bill, which the full Senate will likely vote on later this month.
While there is growing support to including women in the draft, a vocal opposition remains.
The recent push to change the draft actually began with a measure that was designed to fail. Last month, Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.), who opposes opening all combat roles to women, offered an amendment during the House Armed Services Committee’s consideration of the annual defense policy bill to include women in the draft in order to start a “discussion” about the issue.
Hunter voted against his own amendment – but to his and others’ surprise, the committee ultimately approved it when a handful of Republicans joined nearly all committee Democrats to support of the proposal.
Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and other members spoke positively about including women in the draft the next day.
But some Republicans are still bitterly opposed.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), cited that provision as one of two reasons he voted against the defense bill in committee on Thursday, arguing that such a “deeply controversial” change “deserves to be resolved by Congress after a robust and transparent debate in front of the American people, instead of buried in an embargoed document that is passed every year to fund military pay and benefits.”
Lee offered an amendment during the committee markup to strip out the provision, but it was voted down.
Still, the question of opening the draft to women has not been put to the full House or Senate, where individual lawmakers can bring up amendments to strip the change out of the legislation.
If such amendments are brought up, they will be the first test of whether the House and Senate believe that the inclusion of women in all combat roles means it’s also time to open up the draft to women.
Both the House and Senate are tentatively scheduled to vote on their versions of the defense authorization bill later this month, before the Memorial Day break.
But even if the change requiring young women to register for Selective Service survive those votes, it won’t be the last word on the draft.
Both versions of the bill call for a sweeping study of the draft that will take a critical look at its structure and continued relevance. There has not been a national draft in over four decades, and the preference in Congress is to bolster interest in serving in an all-volunteer force.