There’s a behind-the-scenes battle being waged on Capitol Hill over whether the National Defense Authorization Act ought to include a provision requiring women to register for the draft with the Selective Service System. There are many issues at stake, particularly the role of women in the military, and, as Fox News put it, the “blurring of gender lines.” But in a recent report, the Congressional Budget Office identified another, more unexpected variable: the impact on the federal deficit.
Late Monday, House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) pushed through a measure blocking section 528 of the bill, H.R. 4909 -- which requires women to register for the draft -- from being included in the version that will be sent to the House floor.
“I have the utmost respect and deepest appreciation for the young women who bravely volunteer to serve our country, but I am adamantly opposed to coercing America's daughters to sign up for the Selective Service at 18 years of age,” Sessions said in a statement.
While it probably wouldn’t change Sessions’ mind on the issue, the CBO found that in an oddly backhanded way, requiring women to register for the draft would actually save the government tens of millions of dollars in the years ahead.
The savings stem from the fact that registration with Selective Service is a threshold requirement for a number of different government benefits, including Pell Grants and student loans. It is also a requirement for lawful permanent residents who wish to become naturalized citizens, which makes them eligible for the full suite of federal benefits.
Over the years, administrators of the Pell Grant system have come to expect that each year thousands of otherwise eligible applicants will be denied the benefit because of failure to register for the draft. Similarly, lawful permanent residents who seek naturalization can find their applications delayed or denied because of their failure to register.
CBO ran the numbers and came up with an estimate of the savings Section 528 could be expected to generate.
“CBO projects that the number of students who would no longer receive Pell grants and student loans under this provision would grow from 3,000 in award year 2018-2019 to more than 11,000 by 2026-2027 for each program ... Over the 2018-2026 period, CBO estimates that enacting H.R. 4909 would reduce direct spending for Pell grants by about $45 million and for student loans by about $5 million.”
In other words, having women register for the draft would save money because it would result in more people being denied student loans and grants.
Analysts at CBO were unable to produce a number estimating the savings connected to denied applications for naturalization, because the Department of Homeland Security “could not provide data about why the Department denies LPRs’ naturalization applications—notably about how frequently it denies male LPRs’ applications because of knowing and willful failure to register for the draft.”
However, the report noted, “Naturalization affects individuals’ eligibility for certain federal benefits (such as Supplemental Security Income) and their ability to sponsor certain relatives to immigrate to the United States—both of which could affect direct spending.”
Of course, some of the savings would be offset by the increased administration costs of basically doubling the number of registrations the Selective Service must process as well as the advertising and outreach that would be required to inform young women of the new requirements.
Again, the issue of deficit reduction is unlikely to register very much in the debate about whether or not it is appropriate to require women to register for the draft -- but it makes for an interesting example of just how far the unintended consequences of a piece of legislation can reach.