WASHINGTON – Lawmakers negotiating a sweeping defense bill dropped a contentious provision that would have required women to sign up for the Selective Service.
The House passed the National Defense Authorization Acton Tuesday evening after stripping the draft amendment from the legislation. It would have required women ages 18 to 25 to register for the Selective Service, as men do under current law. .
The Senate is expected to take up the defense policy bill as early as this week.
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The amendment to include women in the draft had robust bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, but was stripped out in the final days of closed-doornegotiations amid fears it could imperil passage of the underlying legislation, according to an aide familiar with the negotiations who spoke to USA TODAY on the condition of anonymity.
Conservatives opposed the provision, with some suggesting it was political correctness run amok.
Women should not be “put into the situation where they are forced to engage in hand-to-hand combat with a man, where they would face significant challenges,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told USA TODAY in November. “There are differences between men and women.”
Some lawmakers also wanted another provision of the bill – a major overhaul of the military justice system – to take effect before requiring women to register.
The defense bill is considered vital legislation that directs Pentagon spending and has passed annually for 60 years. It has hit several snagsin recent weeks over the draft provision and other amendments.
The U.S. has not had a military draft in nearly 50 years, since the end of the Vietnam War, and the U.S. armed forces now include many female volunteers who train and fight alongside their male counterparts. But advocates for the amendment argued the change would be good for the country and for equalitymore broadly, and the push for requiring women to register for the Selective Service gained new steam a few years ago after combat roles were opened to women.
Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, a Pennsylvania Democrat and former Air Force officer who offered the amendment to the defense bill, was frustrated by the move to kill it, her spokeswoman Aubrey Stuber said. Stuber said the measure was an “overdue change” that would strengthen American national security.
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Houlahan and others pushed for the policy change after a study by the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service concluded that the Selective Service should remain in place as the most efficient means of calling up citizens for duty in a national emergency and that women should be required to register.
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