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Congress debates expanding military draft to women, making registration automatic

WASHINGTON - The U.S. military has not activated a draft in more than 50 years, but Congress is weighing proposals to update mandatory conscription, including by expanding it to women for the first time and automatically registering those eligible to be called up.

The proposals making their way through the House and Senate stand a slim chance of becoming law, and none would reinstate the draft compelling service right away. But the debate over potential changes reflects how lawmakers are rethinking the draft at a time when readiness issues have risen to the fore and as the Pentagon is facing recruitment challenges amid a raft of risks and conflicts around the world.

The House last week passed an annual defense policy bill that, along with authorizing $895 billion in military spending including for a 19.5% pay raise for troops, contained a bipartisan proposal that would make registering for the draft automatic and expand the maximum age from 25 to 26 years old. At the same time, a Senate committee last week approved a version of the Pentagon policy bill that would expand the registration requirement to women. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., chair of the panel, has championed the draft parity proposal.


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