ARLINGTON, Va. — Servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan may get free monthly phone calls home if House members decide to support their Senate colleagues, who have twice given the idea a thumbs-up.

The free phone call proposal has already obtained full support in the Senate this spring in both a free-standing bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and again in the 2004 defense budget authorization.

McCain’s “Troops Phone Home Free Act of 2003,” which passed the full Senate on April 1, provides a monthly allotment of free telephone calling minutes to any servicemembers “stationed outside the United States who are directly supporting military operations in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

Under the act, deployed members would be issued prepaid phone cards “or an equivalent telecommunications benefit which includes access to telephone service,” with a value not to exceed $40 a month per person.

The phone-home program would end 60 days after the secretary of defense declares that Operation Iraqi Freedom is over. And to keep costs down, Defense Department officials would take advantage of whatever telecommunications programs and capabilities already exist, not to mention seeking help from private support organizations and companies who might offer free or reduced-cost services.

After passing the Senate, the bill was sent over to House Armed Services Committee, or HASC, on April 2.

If the HASC approves the bill, it would go to the full House for a vote, and then to President Bush for signature.

But HASC leaders have yet to decide whether to take up the bill for a vote, and none of its members has decided to personally champion the proposal, a HASC committee staffer said Friday.

If the bill doesn’t get through HASC before the 108th Congress adjourns next January, it dies.

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