Here's Why Lawmakers Want to Automatically Register Men for Selective Service

U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, joins soldiers from Pennsylvania National Guard
U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, joins soldiers from Task Force Paxton, Pennsylvania National Guard for lunch during a congressional delegation visit held in Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Feb. 19, 2024. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Cpt. Amanda Mayer)

Cardi B, as it turns out, is not a font of knowledge about the military draft.

Despite misinformation and misunderstandings floating around TikTok, including from the rap superstar with more than 20 million followers on the social media platform, Congress is not on the verge of reinstating a military draft.

Rather, the House has advanced a bipartisan proposal that would automatically register young men with the Selective Service System, something they are already legally required to do.

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The legislation's backers say it's a commonsense solution to a yearslong problem: The government is fighting a costly, losing battle to inform young men of their legal requirement to register as the rate of registration keeps declining.

But the proposal is getting conflated with unfounded chatter of a reinstated military draft, as well as with a separate contentious debate about whether to make women register for the draft, threatening its chances of becoming law and frustrating the lawmakers who wrote the legislation.

"This new legislation saves taxpayers significant money and makes it easier for these men to follow the law and register with the Selective Service. That is all. Full stop," Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., said in a statement last week. "Our nation has not had a military draft in more than a half-century, and I spend a great deal of my time in Congress working to ensure that we never will again."

At issue is an amendment sponsored by Houlahan and Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., that was included in the House-passed version of this year's National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, to automate draft registration.

The U.S. has not drafted anyone into compulsory military service since 1973, but men ages 18 through 25 still have to register with the Selective Service System in case there is a draft again in the future. The registration requirement has been in place consistently since 1980.

The Selective Service System has an annual budget of a little more than $30 million. It's unclear exactly how much of that is devoted specifically to advertising and other outreach campaigns, but the agency asked Congress for about $11 million for next year for registration efforts as a whole, including to "launch new targeted registration advertising campaigns" and to "synchronize advertising efforts to support registration improvement in low compliance areas," according to budget documents.

Last year, Selective Service System ads on social media, TV, billboards and more made more than 112 million impressions, an increase over 2022's 109 million impressions and 2021's 105 million, according to the agency's annual performance reports.

But increased ad reach didn't translate to increased registration. In 2023 and 2022, the compliance rate for registering was about 84%, a 5% decrease from 2021, according to the annual reports and data obtained by The 2021 compliance rate, in turn, was a 1% decrease from 2020.

The Selective Service System attributes the drop-off largely to the fact that failing to register no longer disqualifies men from federal student aid, and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, no longer asks men whether they want to register under a law passed in 2021. From 2009 to 2019, FAFSA applications accounted for about 24% of registrations, according to data obtained by

"With the onset of this legislation in 2021, SSS saw an immediate decrease in registration compliance for 18- to 25-year-olds from the previous year, with registration falling below 90% nationwide," the agency wrote in a legislative proposal sent to Congress earlier this year that was obtained by "The agency anticipates that the law could impact the SSS registration rate by as much as 10% over the coming years, despite the availability of other existing registration methods, making registration less fair and equitable nationally and leading to undesirable impacts on national defense readiness."

While federal student aid is no longer connected to registration, failing to register can still come with a host of penalties, including the possibility of a felony conviction punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and 5 years imprisonment. Men who don't register are also ineligible for federal jobs, as well as state student aid and state jobs in most states.

Under Houlahan and Bacon's amendment, the Selective Service System would use existing databases, such from the Social Security Administration and departments of motor vehicles, to automatically register 18- to 25-year-old men, ending the threat of penalties and the need to use taxpayer money to encourage men to register. The agency would also be able to reach out to men to inform them that they are registered and ask for any missing information.

Automatic registration would start one year after the legislation becomes law.

The amendment was unanimously approved in a voice vote with little debate when the House Armed Services Committee considered the NDAA in May. At the committee meeting, Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said he "wholeheartedly" endorsed the proposal, calling it "long overdue."

Shortly after the full House passed its NDAA last month, TikTok users began spreading falsehoods that Congress had approved a new military draft. Rapper Cardi B, alternating between cracking up and being incredulous, chimed in to opine that Gen Z men, or "TikTok f---ing hip-shakers," aren't suitable for war.

"You gonna draft these kids that be TikToking all day to fight them, what, mostly like, what, them Russians? Them motherf---ers that be fighting bears and sh--, and motherf---ing climbing mountains to go to school or whatever?" she said in a video.

Meanwhile, the Senate is locked in a separate debate about whether to make women register for Selective Service. Lawmakers have debated doing so on and off since 2016 after the Pentagon opened all combat jobs to women, but conservative opposition has successfully blocked adding women to registration requirements each time the idea has been proposed.

The version of the NDAA that advanced out of the Senate Armed Services Committee last month included a provision that would require women to register, reviving language that last appeared in an NDAA in 2022. The political headwinds that prevented the provision from becoming law in the past haven't changed, with conservatives still vowing to fight hard against efforts to "draft our daughters."

The House and the Senate will need to reconcile their respective NDAAs before either draft-related proposal becomes law, providing an opportunity to scuttle one or both ideas.

The debate over adding women to a potential military draft has threatened to overshadow the one about whether to automate existing registration requirements for men. But supporters of the House proposal on automatic registration say it's a much-needed update that should not be derailed by tangential issues.

"While registration in the Selective Service is vital for our military readiness, the system that exists today is outdated, inefficient and costly," Rye Barcott, co-founder and CEO of With Honor Action, a bipartisan political action committee that supports veterans running for office, said in an emailed statement to

"This is why With Honor Action supports Rep. Houlahan and Rep. Bacon's ... initiative to reintroduce automatic registration, which would cut bureaucratic red tape and ensure all of our energy is focused on building up our military capabilities," he added, "which is increasingly critical as the United States faces growing external threats."

Related: Requirement for Women to Register for the Draft Back on the Table in Annual Defense Bill

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