House Republicans sought to quash a persistent Internet rumor that the government will reinstate a military draft after the election, engineering an overwhelming vote Tuesday to kill legislation they hope will put the rumor to rest for good.
Republicans accused Democrats of feeding the rumor mill to scare young voters and their parents into voting against President Bush.
"This campaign is a baseless, malevolent concoction of the Democratic Party and everyone in this chamber knows it," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.
The House voted 402-2 to defeat the draft bill offered last year by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.
Even he urged Democrats to vote against the bill, and charged Republicans were cynically trying to use the measure to escape election-season questions about the war in Iraq.
Just two lawmaker, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., and Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., struck off on their own and voted for the measure.
"We are in a war, and not only a small segment of the population should fight in that war," said Murtha.
The specter of a wartime military draft like that of the Vietnam era has lingered around the presidential campaign for the past few weeks, fueled by an e-mail driven rumor mill and a campaign by Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan group that seeks to boost voting among young people.
The White House on Tuesday accused opponents of President Bush of trying to scare voters with false rumors.
Much of the Internet gossip circling the World Wide Web has suggested that Republicans, including the president, have a plan to surreptitiously bring back the draft in a second Bush term. Democrats say worries about it are spurring voter registration on college campuses and among people in their 20s in urban areas.
"Everywhere they go on the Internet, all they see is the draft, the draft, the draft," said Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash. "The Rock the Vote effort among kids in this country is afire and they (Republicans) know it. They're trying their best to tamp down this fire."
The Bush administration has strongly denied any plan to reinstate the draft, but the denials have not killed the rumor.
"There are some who have tried to bring this up as a scare tactic and that is highly unfortunate," White House spokesman Scott McLellan said Tuesday. "The president does not believe we need a draft and he's made that repeatedly clear."
Speaking to Iowa voters Monday, Bush said, "We will not have a draft so long as I am president of the United States."
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has suggested the draft could be reinstated if voters re-elect Bush.
Kerry said his plan for Iraq, which calls for a summit and for allies to share a greater part of the burden, would not need a military draft.
Campaigning in Iowa on Tuesday, Kerry told reporters, "I've never said they're going to have a draft. I've said I don't know what they're going to do. I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to pursue a policy that guarantees we don't have a draft."
At a time that the Army is already struggling to meet recruitment targets, Kerry has proposed boosting the U.S. military by tens of thousands of troops, though he argues any increases in Iraq would come from foreign allies.
Rock the Vote said it is raising the draft issue because the presidential candidates haven't addressed it.
"This is not an Internet rumor," said Rock the Vote spokesman Jay Strell. "Young people in America deserve an honest and open debate about the possibility of a draft. Neither side has offered up what they're going to do to meet the current and future military needs."
Strell said his group's Web site has seen a huge spike in recent days in downloads of voter registration forms, now up to about 40,000 a day.
The draft legislation scheduled for debate Tuesday was introduced by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., a fierce critic of both the Iraq war and the Bush administration.
"I would not advise anybody that's running for election as a Democrat to vote for this," said Rangel, who contended Republicans abused parliamentary standards to rush a vote to the floor without hearings or discussion. "It's a prostitution of the legislative process," he said.
The measure would require two years of military or civilian service of men and women aged 18-26.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist ruled out consideration of a companion bill in that chamber, saying, "To the leadership of the United States Senate, it's a non-issue and it's one that's not going to be addressed."