House Republicans are beginning to discuss legislation that would prevent the Pentagon from lowering physical standards for women to ensure an ample number get accepted in the most arduous combat jobs in the infantry and special operations.
A Republican aide tells The Washington Times it would be a mistake to use legislation to re-impose the ban on women in direct ground combat that Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta lifted last week. Instead, lawmakers will aim to keep the military's gender-neutral standards high, the aide said.
Mr. Panetta has pledged to keep standards the same for men and women, but the military also is looking at lowering requirements for both if they are judged too high.
While a law requiring gender-neutral standards would not stop the lowering of standards, it would send a message that Congress does not want that to happen, the aide said.
"Already on Capitol Hill, people are talking about what type of legislative response should be in the works," the congressional source said. "What we should do is just maintain gender-neutral standards, and by that logic, it is going to be more difficult to change the bar at all."
The Republican aide said that, for example, if the Navy eases standards for joining the SEALs, who endure some of the most rigorous training in the military, the elite special operations unit also would have to accept men who would not qualify today.
"The military in the field would not want to do that," the aide said.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who fought as a Marine Corps officer in Iraq and Afghanistan, is promoting legislation requiring gender-neutral standards.
Putting the ban into law lacks enough votes in Congress and opens Republicans to the "war on women" charge liberals like to unleash, said the aide, who works on defense issues.
With the ban's removal, the military is embarking on a major analysis of the standards for strength and endurance for jobs in direct ground combat.
Some Republicans have expressed alarm over the suggestion by Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that those standards might be lowered if they are judged too difficult for the actual task. Since Gen. Dempsey said that all combat standards will be gender-neutral, that means the standards would be lowered for both men and women.
"If we do decide that a particular standard is so high that a woman couldn't make it, the burden is now on the service to come back and explain to the secretary, why is it that high?" Gen. Dempsey told reporters Thursday. "Does it really have to be that high? With the direct combat exclusion provision in place, we never had to have that conversation."
He also implied that some standards today are too high.
"We'll also integrate women in a way that enhances opportunity for everyone," Gen. Dempsey said. "This means setting clear standards of performance for all occupations based on what it actually takes to do the job. It also means ensuring that these standards are gender-neutral in occupations that will open to women."
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