Leading The News
Rangel to reintroduce military draft measure
By Susan Crabtree
Posted: 01/14/09 07:24 PM [ET]
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) likely will introduce his controversial legislation to reinstate the draft again this year, but he will wait until after the economic stimulus package is passed.
Asked if he plans to introduce the legislation again in 2009, Rangel last week said, “Probably … yes. I don’t want to do anything this early to distract from the issue of the economic stimulus.”
Rangel’s military draft bill did create a distraction for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) soon after Democrats won control of Congress after the 2006 election.
In the wake of that historic victory, Pelosi said publicly that she did not support the draft and that the Democratic leadership would not back Rangel’s legislation. She also said Rangel’s legislation was not about reinstating the draft but was instead “a way to make a point” about social inequality.
Reintroducing the military draft bill, which would attract media attention, will be trickier for Rangel in 2009 than it was a couple years ago because the Ways and Means Committee chairman is now under investigation by the House ethics committee.
Democratic leaders have given Rangel a leading role in helping craft the new economic stimulus bill despite an array of ethics allegations that have surfaced over the last several months. The charges have ranged from failing to report rental income on a villa in the Dominican Republic to an alleged quid pro quo involving a legislative favor for a donor to an education center bearing Rangel’s name.
Always eager to be at the heart of the action, Rangel clearly is relishing discussing the high-profile stimulus package. During the first days of the 111th Congress — and for the first time in months — reporters have been swarming around Rangel to discuss policy matters rather than ethics.
Republicans are likely to seize on the reintroduction of Rangel’s unpopular military draft bill. When they controlled the House in 2004, Republicans scheduled a vote on the Rangel measure, which was defeated 402-2. Reps. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and Pete Stark (D-Calif.) supported it, while Rangel voted against his own bill, claiming the GOP was playing political games.
But Rangel told The Hill that he recently heard talk about rewarding mandatory service with two years of college credit.
“That doesn’t make sense,” he said. “People shouldn’t have to join the military to get an education.”
A decorated Korean War veteran and a member of the Out of Iraq Caucus, Rangel argues that the burden of fighting wars falls disproportionately on low-income people and that cost should be borne more broadly.
If a draft had been in place in 2002 when members were making the decision on whether to support the war in Iraq, Rangel has said, Congress never would have approved the war resolution, because the pressure from constituents would have been too great.
With the Iraq war off the front page and the economic crisis taking center stage, nerves are not as raw on the topic of strain on the military as they were a few years ago, so Rangel’s legislation may not make as many waves this time around.
But some Democrats — even one who supported Rangel’s efforts in the past — are a little perplexed about his plans to reintroduce the legislation, especially now that President-elect Obama is poised to take over the White House.
“That was really a political statement at the beginning of the war that we continued,” said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), one of only two co-sponsors of Rangel’s draft bill. “I’m not sure we’re going to do that this time.”
Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y) was the only other co-sponsor during the 110th Congress. She could not be reached for comment for this article.