Women would begin signing up with Selective Service in January 2018 under a measure approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee, another step toward the day that young Americans of both genders would be subject to a military draft.
A return to forcing people to join the military seems unlikely. Military leaders maintain that the all-volunteer force is working and do not want to return to conscription. The U.S. has not had a military draft since 1973, in the waning years of the Vietnam War era, but all men are required by law to register with Selective Service within 30 days of turning 18.
Women have never been required to register and have never been part of a wide-scale draft. Any justification for barring women from draft registration was erased last year when the Pentagon announced that all military jobs would be open to women, the Senate committee said late Thursday in a summary of its annual defense policy bill.
The committee noted that the top officers in each of the military branches expressed their support for including women in a potential draft during testimony before Congress.
Despite agreement by both the Senate and the House Armed Services committees on this issue, a provocative debate is expected when legislation requiring women to register is considered in the full Senate and House.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who served with the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he believes most Americans don't want women to be drafted. Despite his objections, Hunter proposed, and then voted against, an amendment requiring women to register. It was narrowly adopted by the House Armed Services Committee in late April.
Hunter said he offered the measure to force a discussion about how the Pentagon's decision to void gender restrictions on military service failed to consider whether the exclusion on drafting women also should be lifted. He argued that the call should be made by Congress.
The White House has declined to say whether President Barack Obama would sign into law legislation that expands the draft to include women.
Overall, the Senate committee measure approved Thursday provides $602 billion in fiscal year 2017 for the Defense Department and for nuclear weapons programs managed by Energy Department.
The Senate committee did not follow the House panel's lead and shift $18 billion in wartime spending to pay for additional weapons and troops to reverse what Republicans and a number of Democrats have called a crisis in the U.S. military's combat readiness. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the Armed Services Committee chairman, is planning to propose a strategy for securing additional money for the military when the full Senate takes up the bill. That could happen as early as next week.
The committee did identify $3 billion in savings from the defense budget proposed by the Obama administration "and redirected those funds toward critical needs of our warfighters,'' according to the summary. The committee also added $2 billion for additional training, depot maintenance and weapons sustainment.