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H.R. 748 (113th): Universal National Service Act

H.R. 748 would require all residents of the United States between the ages of 18 and 25 to perform two years of “national service."

“National service,” as defined in the bill, may consist of:

  1. Military service; or
  2. Civilian service in a federal, state, or local government program or with a community-based organization, provided that the President has determined that the organization is engaged in “meeting human, educational, environmental, or public safety needs.”

The bill would also allow the President to induct 18- to 25-year-olds into the military in wartime or in the case of a national emergency declared by the President. Thus, it ostensibly obviates the need for Congress to pass legislation reinstating the draft and grants the President unprecedented discretion in the matter of national emergencies. Under current law, established in the 1973 War Powers Resolution, a national emergency that allows the President to exercise his or her powers as Commander in Chief is one “created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces” (50 U.S.C. § 1541(c)). In addition, the bill would require women to register for Selective Service.

The Universal National Service Act was first introduced in the House by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) in 2003, during the run-up to the war in Iraq. A corresponding bill was introduced in the Senate by then-Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-SC). Explaining the motivation behind the bill, Rep. Rangel said at the time that in the case of war, the governing principle should be one of “shared sacrifice” among Americans. Moreover, he argued, a renewed draft as proposed in the bill would “help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war,” and would therefore encourage caution before using military force in the future.

Rep. Rangel later claimed that a draft was needed in any case in order to maintain troop levels sufficient for the concurrent challenges posed by Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. And although the United States has since withdrawn its troops from Iraq, he continues to campaign for this issue, stating recently that the draft would create a more equal military and ensure that force is only used as a last resort.

The 2003 bill came up for a vote in October 2004 and was defeated 402-2. In fact, Rep. Rangel himself voted “nay,” in protest of the fact that no committee meetings had been held on the bill and it received only 40 minutes of debate on the House floor.

Rep. Rangel reintroduced versions of the bill in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, and most recently, earlier this year. None of these bills ever made it to a floor vote.

The various versions of the bill differ somewhat from one another. The original bill required men and women to perform military or civilian service that, as determined by the President, “promotes the national defense.” However, in its current version the bill allows for civilian service that “is engaged in meeting human, educational, environmental, or public safety needs.”

The bill initially referred to persons between the ages of 18 and 26, was later modified to apply to the 18-42 age bracket, and would now apply to 18- to 25-year-olds. In addition, the current bill would permit deferments for post-secondary students, while versions of the bill until 2011 only allowed them for high school students.

Below are versions of the Universal National Service Act that have been introduced in Congress, in chronological order:

HOUSE 

2003 (108th Congress): http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/108/hr163

2005 (109th Congress): http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/109/hr2723

2006 (109th Congress): http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/109/hr4752

2007 (110th Congress): http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/110/hr393

2010 (111th Congress): http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/111/hr5741

2011 (112th Congress): http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr1152

SENATE

2003 (108th Congress): http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/108/s89

Last updated Apr 6, 2013. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress.


2/15/2013--Introduced. Universal National Service Act - Declares that it is the obligation of every U.S. citizen, and every other person residing in the United States, between the ages of 18 and 25 to perform a 2-year period of national service, unless exempted, either through military service or through civilian service in a federal, state, or local government program or with a community-based agency or entity engaged in meeting human, educational, environmental, or public safety needs. Requires induction into national service by the President. Allows persons to be inducted only: (1) under a declaration of war or national emergency, or (2) when members of the Armed Forces are engaged in a contingency operation. Requires each person, before induction, to be examined physically and mentally for classification for fitness to perform. Sets forth provisions governing: (1) induction deferments, postponements, and exemptions, including exemption of a conscientious objector from combatant training and military service; and (2) discharge following national service.

Amends the Military Selective Service Act to authorize the military registration of females.