The House Armed Services Committee chairman is warning that further reductions to projected defense spending could make a military career so unattractive that it would force the Pentagon to revive the draft.
Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., suggested that spending cuts beyond the $350 billion that President Barack Obama and Congress agreed to in the debt accord this past summer could force the military to slash the number of service members, now some 2.3 million, including National Guard and reserves.
A special bipartisan committee is trying to come up with $1.5 trillion in spending cuts from all government spending. If it fails, or if Congress rejects its proposal, automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion would kick in, with half coming from defense.
"We also need to understand what it's going to mean to keep an all-volunteer force. Do we want to reinstitute the draft? Some of the cuts we're talking about would take over 200,000 out" McKeon said Monday in an interview with Fox News.
The military draft ended in 1973 as the U.S. switched to an all-volunteer force after the Vietnam War. In the decades since, some in Congress have suggested reviving the draft, but the Pentagon has rejected the idea and efforts have gone nowhere with Republicans or Democrats.
McKeon fears that defense cuts would force the Pentagon to reduce the size of the force, delay improvements for weapons and slice military benefits, steps that would made a military career far less attractive to recruits.
"Our troops that go outside the line over in Afghanistan every day should not be having to think about what their retirement's going to be, what their pension's going to be, are they going to be able to stay in the military," McKeon said.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., chairman of the Armed Services personnel subcommittee, on Wednesday expressed concerns about defense cuts but said a draft was unnecessary.
"I'm concerned that the cuts are so devastating to our national security that almost any negative consequence can arise, but I actually have supported and continue to support as a budget-cutting measure elimination of the Selective Service," Wilson said in an interview.
The lawmaker, who attended the Marine Corps graduation at Parris Island last Friday, said service members are volunteering even in a time of two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We have the new greatest generation," Wilson said. "We don't need as large a military due to the technology we have, the equipment we have outfitting our personnel. They really are storm troopers."
Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said "there are savings to be had in the military. The all-volunteer Army seems to be working pretty well. Reinstating the draft? I don't know what that accomplishes."
In recent weeks, McKeon suggested that he might back an increase in revenue through taxes to avoid deeper cuts in defense.