The House Armed Services Committee voted Wednesday to expand registration for the Selective Service System, commonly known as the draft, to include women, a move that brings the requirement one step closer to becoming law.
As part of the debate on the fiscal 2022 defense policy bill, committee members voted 35-24 to require all Americans ages 18 to 24 to register for the draft, not just men.
Air Force veteran Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., proposed the measure, saying the current system is unconstitutional because it discriminates based on gender.
"This amendment clarifies women make up over 50% of the population, and not including them is not only a disservice to these women but to our nation as a whole," Houlahan said. "It ensures that the Selective Service System is able to provide the DoD with personnel and the skills it needs, including cyber, STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] and technical talent."
While expanding the draft may face opposition from conservatives when the bill is considered by the entire House, it has a significant chance of becoming law, since the Senate Armed Services Committee's version of the legislation also contains the measure.
Both bills now face floor votes, followed by a conference to reconcile differences between the two versions, and then a final vote.
Florida Republican Rep. Mike Waltz, a former Army Green Beret, co-sponsored the amendment and was joined by three Republicans -- Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Jack Bergman of Michigan and Patrick Fallon of Texas -- in voting for the amendment.
"If we have a national emergency that makes us have to go back to the draft -- we're talking COVID on steroids, a cyber attack ... and we need everyone, man, woman, gay, straight, black brown, and we need everybody on deck, it's that bad -- what this is seeking to do is at least have a framework established," Waltz said.
The committee's approval follows recommendations by the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service last year that Selective Service registration be extended to women.
Since restrictions on women serving in combat arms were lifted in 2015, lawmakers -- as well as plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the constitutionality of male-only registration -- have argued that women should need to register.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court decided against hearing a case on the issue, with the justices agreeing with the U.S. solicitor general's argument that Congress, not the courts, should decide the matter.
Last year, lawmakers introduced the provision in the House, but it never made it past committee.
Some legislators have proposed that the Selective Service System be abolished because the nation eliminated the draft in the early 1970s. Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have sponsored legislation to kill the system, calling its $25 million annual cost a waste of taxpayer dollars.
House Republicans who opposed Houlahan's amendment said it is simply unnecessary. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., has confidence that women would volunteer to serve in a national emergency.
"This current system doesn't fence off anyone. Anyone ... can step up now to serve our nation, but this amendment is a solution in search of a problem," Hartzler said.
The proposed $740 billion defense bill, which includes a $24 billion boost proposed by Republican committee members, was approved by a 57-2 vote. California Democrats Reps. Ro Khanna and Sara Jacobs voted against it.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime