The United States Senate voted to pass a sweeping defense policy bill on Tuesday that will require young women to sign up for the military draft for the first time in history.
The vote was 85-13 in favor of the National Defense Authorization Act, a $600 billion defense spending bill that includes a host of other controversial provisions, including prohibiting the closure of Guantanamo Bay, and denying the Pentagon’s requests to close military bases.
Republicans were divided about whether the U.S. should require women to register for the draft when they turn 18. Senator Ted Cruz told Politico it was a “radical change that is attempting to be foisted on the American people. The idea that we should forcibly conscript young girls into combat, to my mind, makes little or no sense.”
However Senator John McCain said “a large bipartisan majority on the Armed Services Committee agreed that there is simply no further justification to limit Selective Service registration to men.”
The Senate and the House will now meet to compare and resolve differences between the two versions of the defense spending bill. The House version does not have the female draft requirement in it.
The legislation mandates for the first time in history that young women sign up for a potential military draft. The requirement has angered social conservatives, who fear the move is another step toward the blurring of gender lines akin to allowing transgender people to use public lavatories and locker rooms.
A heated dispute over amendments to the bill left in doubt the future of a program that allows Afghan civilians in danger of being harmed or killed by the Taliban to receive visas and resettle in the United States.
The Republican-led House passed its version of the defense bill last month and lawmakers from both chambers must meet in a conference to resolve differences. The House, for example, excludes the female draft requirement and seeks $18 billion more in spending than the Senate to pay for troops and weapons the Pentagon didn’t request.
The defense bills authorize military spending for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
But there is agreement in both chambers on key policy provisions – such as keeping Guantanamo open – that puts Congress on a collision course with President Barack Obama.
During his first campaign for president, Obama promised to close the detention facility at Guantanamo, which he has called a recruiting tool for extremist groups. But Republicans and a number of Democrats have repeatedly thwarted his goal, arguing the prison is critically needed for housing suspected terrorists. The ban on closing the prison also includes a prohibition on moving detainees at Guantanamo to secure facilities in the United States.
The House and Senate also have agreed not to allow military bases to be closed. The Pentagon says the services have vastly more space for training and basing troops than they need, and trimming the surplus would save money better used to strengthen the military.
But Congress won’t go along. Military bases are prized assets in local economies and shutting them can cost votes in the next election. Besides, several lawmakers have argued that the Pentagon has cooked the books to justify its conclusions or at least didn’t do the math completely.