- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2004

The House of Representatives yesterday overwhelmingly rejected a Democrat-sponsored bill to revive a military draft in a last-minute vote scheduled by its Republican leadership to squelch rumors that the Bush administration is planning to reinstitute mandatory military service.

“For two months — especially on college campuses — they’ve used the draft as a fear tactic to get people to vote against George W. Bush,” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said of Democrats.

“We’ve had enough of that. We’re going to call them on it. The Democrats are the only people that have a bill instituting the draft; we’re going to bring it out there, and we’re going to put a nail in it.”

Mr. DeLay said Democrats, including Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, have started “rumor campaigns” that Republicans are planning to restart the draft.

Mr. Kerry has said several times on the campaign trail that President Bush might use a draft, including yesterday, in Tipton, Iowa, when he listed “the possibility of a draft” among his reasons that voters might be motivated to support him.

Yesterday’s draft bill — sponsored by Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat — was defeated 402-2, with even Mr. Rangel voting against the proposal that called for reinstituting the practice abandoned in 1973 when the military converted to an all-volunteer force.

Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, and Rep. Pete Stark, California Democrat, voted for the measure.

Mr. Rangel said that his bill deserved “serious consideration” and that the surprise vote, scheduled just yesterday morning, was a “blatant politicization of the issue of meeting our military staffing requirements.”

The bill, which Mr. Rangel said he introduced to make a political point that the military is being stretched too thin under Mr. Bush, would have required everyone, including women, between the ages of 18 to 26, to serve a period of military service.

The draft, signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940, was last used from 1948 to 1973 to fill vacancies in the armed forces that volunteer recruitment could not.

Mr. Rangel said he wanted to show that poor children — not privileged politicians’ children — are the ones fighting in Iraq.

“You’ve been caught in your own trap,” Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, California Republican, told Democrats.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the Defense Department and other military experts have told him that a draft is simply not necessary.

“We don’t need a draft,” he said, adding that Democrats have been trying to scare people and that yesterday’s vote “may be the only way to put that to bed.”

He said Republicans had to stop the Internet rumors of an impending draft under Mr. Bush — rumors that he called “the biggest hoax in show business.”

Democrats said the public will continue to be legitimately concerned about a draft under Republicans.

“This issue is not going away,” said Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat. “Nobody trusts them. … It’s pretty clear, if George Bush is re-elected, there is going to be a draft.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat, said, “There is a secret plan for a draft.”

Mr. Kerry was asked in a press conference yesterday about earlier comments that the Bush administration might reinstitute the draft, and at first, he denied it: “I haven’t said, ever, that they are. I’ve never suggested that.”

Reminded of his comments about the possibility of a draft, he said he cannot predict the end result of Mr. Bush’s current path. He also repeated a charge that he and Mr. Murtha, top Democrat on the defense appropriations subcommittee, have made that Mr. Bush is delaying news of a huge reserve call-up until after the election.

“Unless you follow my plan, the more of the same of this administration is going to be very difficult to achieve,” he said.

“Now I’ve never said they’re going to have a draft. I said I don’t know what they’re going to do,” he continued. “I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to pursue a policy that guarantees we don’t have to have a draft.”

The Bush administration has strongly denied any plan to reinstate the draft, but the denials have not killed the rumor.

“There are some who have tried to bring this up as a scare tactic, and that is highly unfortunate,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. “The president does not believe we need a draft, and he’s made that repeatedly clear.”

Mr. DeLay said, “The Democrats have nothing to offer. John Kerry is trying to cover up who the real John Kerry is.”

He added that Mr. Rangel’s bill is “a fraud and so is the pernicious campaign of deception that brought it to the floor today.”

Democrats accused Republicans of already instituting a “backdoor draft” by extended use of National Guard and reserve troops and by recruiting poor students to fight.

And they said Republicans’ unfair move yesterday shows that they’re scared the draft issue is resonating with the public and could hurt them at the ballot box next month. Republican leaders scheduled Mr. Rangel’s draft bill yesterday without notice, among a group of noncontroversial bills that receive speedy floor consideration and require a two-thirds vote to pass.

“It must be a hot day down at the White House,” Mr. McDermott said. “They’re trying their best to tamp down this fire, but they can’t get anyone to believe them.”

But Mr. DeLay said the White House was not involved in bringing the bill to the floor.

In the Senate, a similar draft bill is sponsored by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said yesterday’s House vote “demonstrates there is no support in Congress for reinstituting the draft.”

“It is my sincere hope that this vote will put to rest the urban legends and conspiracy theories about reinstating the draft now being circulated, not just on the Internet, but on the campaign trail,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.

“And I hope that the president’s opponents who are now spreading such rumors will take this vote as a rebuke, and that it will bring an end to the unsubstantiated specter of a draft.”

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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