Legislation to reinstate the draft is winding through Congress

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Adam Bird * Associated Press

Samantha Clair is the first of Michigan's first surviving set of sextuplets to go home with her parents Ben and Amy Van Houten from Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Wednesday. The occurance of multiple births through in-vitro fertilization is declining, a study says, as doctors follow voluntary guidelines regarding the number of potential embryos implanted in a womb.By Tony Rehagen ~ Southeast Missourian

A steady stream of reports from Washington, D.C., and Iraq have national defense at the forefront of a lot of Americans' minds these days.

But amid the military death tolls from the war in Iraq and Sept. 11 commission inquiries, many citizens may be surprised to learn there is legislation on the table that could put them in the middle of the issue, though local congressmen say its chances of passing are remote.

In January 2003, Democratic Sen. Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, and Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel of New York introduced bills to Congress -- Senate Bill No. 89, House Bill No. 163 -- that would reinstate the armed services draft in the United States for the first time since 1973. The legislation, which is being referred to as the Universal National Service Act, would make military service or alternative national service compulsory for men and women ages 18 to 26. It has recently been sent to the House Committee on Armed Services.

In an editorial published in the Dallas Morning News on Oct. 22, 2003, the sponsors collaborated to defend their bill. In the opinion piece, Hollings and Rangel explain that the legislation to reinstate the draft is designed to "create a force size appropriate to meet the nation's expanding military obligations."

Local legislators say that simply isn't true.

Representatives of both Sen. Jim Talent's and Sen. Kit Bond's offices both downplayed the likelihood of a draft and denied the need for conscription, saying that the current volunteer force has been effective.

"This bill is not being taken seriously in the Senate," said Rich Chrismer, spokesman for Talent, pointing out that the act has no co-sponsors in the Senate.

Rob Ostrander, with Bond's office, said that the Senator feels "decisions regarding the manpower needs of the armed services are best left to the military."

Slim to zeroJeffrey Connor, communications director for Missouri Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, concurred and went further to say that a lack of congressional and executive leadership supporting the bill leads him to doubt the likelihood of its success in the House, as well.

"The prospects of this legislation seeing action in the House is slim if not zero," Connor said.

Even Ilene Zeldin, spokesman for bill sponsor Hollings, admitted that the bill is "not moving very quickly."

While the bill may not be benefiting from the support of House leaders, 13 other Representatives cosponsored the proposal, including Missouri Democrat Rep. William Clay.

Clay was unavailable for comment, but his communications director, Ishamael-Lateef Ahmad, said that Clay co-signed the bill because it recognized that the burden of national defense should be shared by all income groups and not just those joining for financial reasons.

Strict limitationsHollings and Rangel echoed that sentiment in their editorial, saying that "we can't continue to call upon the same people, and the same segment of society, to make all of the sacrifices while other folks continue on with their lives as if nobody is dying out there."

Neither Talent's, Bond's nor Emerson's offices would comment on the reasons behind the bill's introduction.

The act defines national service as either military or civilian service as defined by the president that promotes national or homeland security and would require those not selected for military service to fulfill their obligation in a civilian capacity for the same duration as those selected for military service. That is usually two years. It also stipulates that grounds for exemption be strictly limited to physical disability and conscientious objection. There would only be educational deferments for high school, and then only until age 20.

Southeast Missouri State University senior Daniel Boughton said he would probably opt out as a conscientious objector. As for the disparity among the segments of society in the military, the 21-year-old Boughton said that he doesn't think a draft will change that.

"Isn't the draft racist and non-representative anyway?" Boughton said. He explained that through his studies, he believes even when there has been a draft, the privileged have always been more apt to find ways out of serving and seeing the brunt of military action.

Veteran Burt Lehman was drafted into the service in March 1969 and spent a year in Vietnam. The 56-year-old agrees that a draft wouldn't change the demographic makeup of the armed forces.

"The military is always going to have people who are not so well off," Lehman said. "They use the military to better themselves and get equal footing monetarily."

Lehman said that when he was drafted in1969, most young men took it as a matter of course. Now, kids are use to having a choice. Although he has mixed feelings on the reinstatement of the draft, he thinks the government should give the volunteer military more time before taking that sort of action.

"I believe the military we have now should be, and are, taking care of business," Lehman said.

trehagen@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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