WASHINGTON – Rep. Charles Rangel plans to resurrect a bill to reinstate the draft when Democrats take power in January, but the idea got a chilly reception Sunday in the heart of his Harlem district.

“There’s no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq … if, indeed, we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm’s way,” Rangel said Sunday.

Rangel floated the same idea in Congress two years ago, but ended up voting against his own bill, along with 401 other Congress members, when the measure came up just before the presidential election.

At the time, he accused Republicans of rushing it out as a stunt against Democrats instead of giving it a legitimate hearing.

But the soon-to-be chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said Sunday a draft bill will be no stunt this time, insisting he’s very serious about it.

“You bet your life; underscore serious,” Rangel said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday.

Along 125th Street in New York City on Sunday, Rangel’s draft plan was met mostly with derision.

“What, he was smoking pot or something?” said 58-year-old James Brown.

“He doesn’t represent the people of Harlem if he’s for the draft,” Neil Davis, 48, said.

The White House and the military also oppose the idea.

“America has the best military in the world,” said Lt. Col. Jeremy Martin, a Defense Department spokesman. “The all-volunteer force has served the American people well for over 30 years and will continue to do so.”

But Rangel insisted that with rising threats around the world, and the huge drain Iraq puts on U.S. forces, a draft is crucial.

“If we’re going to challenge Iran and challenge North Korea and then, as some people have asked, to send more troops to Iraq, we can’t do that without a draft,” he said.

Rangel said, though, that the draft shouldn’t be all about the military and war, and that it can be a way to beef up national security forces at “seaports, our airports, in schools, in hospitals” while giving draftees some education in return.

“I will be introducing that bill as soon as we start the new session,” said Rangel, a Korean War veteran. “I don’t see how anyone can support the war and not support the draft. I think to do so is hypocritical.”


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