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Universal National Service Act of 2003

Location: Washington, DC

UNIVERSAL NATIONAL SERVICE ACT OF 2003 -- (Extensions of Remarks - October 11, 2004)

Mr. HOLT. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to talk about a very important subject for the young people of my district and America, the draft. This week, the Congress considered H.R. 163, Universal National Service Act of 2003, which would require every U.S. citizen, and every other person residing in the United States, between the ages of 18 and 26 to perform a two-year period of national service, unless exempted.

Let me make clear, I do not support reinstatement of an active military draft system. Also it is very unlikely there will be a draft in the foreseeable future.

The legal authority for drafting men into the U.S. armed forces expired in 1973. However, the U.S. Selective Service System has been registering 18-25 year-olds on a stand-by basis. These young men could be called for service should an active draft ever be reinstated. Currently, women are not required to register with the U.S. Selective Service.

Young people, as well as their parents, across my district have heard about a draft bill, and these constituents are asking questions about the draft bill and want to find out its status. Congressman RANGEL and U.S. Senator FRITZ HOLLINGS from South Carolina introduced this legislation to reinstate an active draft and extend service requirements to women. I cannot speak for them about their motives behind this legislation, but they certainly do make a fundamental point: if we go to war, all Americans should share in the cost and sacrifice of that war. The authors point out that without a universal draft, this burden falls disproportionately on the shoulders of the poor, the disadvantaged, and minorities, as was the case during the Vietnam War.

Mr. Speaker, H.R. 163 raises important questions about the current composition of U.S. armed forces. For example, Representative RANGEL argues that among 535 Members of Congress, only four have sons or daughters who presently serve in the military.

Yet we have not had a national debate on the draft and we certainly did not have that debate this week. H.R. 163 was not marked up or voted on by any committee here in the House. This bill was added to the suspension calendar of the House reserved for noncontroversial items. And yet it is quite controversial.

Mr. Speaker, the war in Iraq-combined with other worldwide deployments in Afghanistan, Korea, and over 140 other countries-has put an enormous strain on our active duty and reserve soldiers. We have seen underpaid, ill-equipped, and overextended American troops fighting in Iraq. More than two-thirds of New Jersey's National Guard will be activated this year. There are hard questions that need to be answered about how we can continue this war, at this pace. We do need to review our commitments overseas and asses our ability to meet them. This bill shows that a National debate on these issues is greatly needed. This week, we did not have that debate. The House leaders simply tried to make a political point, but I hope that this has sown the seeds of the discussion. The nation's military leaders are nearly unanimous in saying that the military can meet its needs better without a draft. None of us here in the House today would be eligible under a potential draft. We are too old. And I would like to see this debate with the input of the young people who are affected by it. I feel strongly that we should all go back to our districts and continue this discussion-but with those who it will be affected by it.

I do not believe that an active military draft system is currently necessary or advisable. More important, the generals and admirals do not believe that a draft is necessary or advisable. I have co-sponsored legislation introduced by Representative ELLEN TAUSCHER to meet military manpower needs by temporarily increasing by 8 percent the end-strength numbers of our all-volunteer armed forces during the next five years and increasing enlistees' pay and benefits accordingly (H.R. 3696). This alternative approach would increase the volunteer numbers of active duty-soldiers gradually over the next five years, thus enabling members of the National Guard and Reserve to rotate out or transition voluntarily into active duty slots with better benefits and equipment.

Mr. Speaker, I have heard from many moms and dads, and I have heard from many students from all across my district who are disturbed by the idea of renewing the draft and I agree with them. We do not need to return to the draft system.

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