Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks on the Real ID Card

Posted on February 15, 2007

Mr. President, when we come back from the recess we are going to turn our attention to the 9/11 Commission recommendations which have been enacted by the House. I want to discuss an issue I hope will come up when we discuss the 9/11 Commission recommendations and that has to do with the so-called REAL ID card, the de facto national ID card. This is a law that was enacted in early 2005. It was House-passed legislation that would require States to turn more than 190 million driver's licenses into de facto national identification cards, with State taxpayers paying most of the costs. I am not very much of a prognosticator. My predictions have never been all that accurate, but at the time of that passage, I objected to it. The first thing wrong with the REAL ID law was that the House stuck the law into an appropriations bill that supported our troops in Iraq and sent it over to the Senate. None of us wanted to slow down support for our troops in Iraq while we debated ID cards, so it was stuck in there and we passed it. But the second and larger problem with what the House did 2 years ago, and which we agreed to and it became law, is that States not only got to create the ID cards, but they will likely end up paying the bill. I said to my colleagues, and at that time we had a Republican Congress: This is one more of the unfunded Federal mandates we Republicans promised to end. Well, now we have moved ahead about 2 years, and I believe I have turned out to be right about that. Just last month, the Maine Legislature became the first State to approve a resolution urging Congress to overturn the Real ID Act before it takes effect on the States in May of 2008. Only 4 of the 186 Maine lawmakers voted no. In the following other States there are bills, according to USA Today, that are considering asking us to overturn the law: Hawaii, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Washington. One reason they are asking us to overturn it is that according to the National Governors Association, implementing the law will cost more than $11 billion over 5 years. We have provided $40 million of the $11 billion. That is an enormous unfunded Federal mandate. The Presiding Officer is a former State official. I don't know if he had these same feelings when he was in his State of Colorado, but nothing used to make me madder when I was Governor of Tennessee than for some group of Congressmen to come up with a big idea, turn it into law, hold a big press conference, take credit for it, and send the bill to the States to pay for it. Then that same Congressman would usually be back home making a Lincoln Day speech, bragging about local control. I am afraid that is what we have with REAL ID. It sounds pretty good maybe to say: Oh, we have a war against terrorism, and we have illegal immigration and other immigration issues. We need some sort of identification card that will make it possible to do a better job of fighting terrorists and impose the rule of law on our border. That sounds good, but there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. Here is what we should have done and what I hope we will do. I hope the week after next, when Senator Collins of Maine comes to the Senate, which I hope she will, and offers an amendment that will, in effect, set up a thoughtful process for, first, delaying the implementation of this bill and, second, give us a chance to consider all of its ramifications, I hope we will adopt that as part of the 9/11 Commission Report. In other words, give the idea of a national identification card the kind of thoughtful attention it deserves in the Senate. No. 1, we should do it because it is a huge break with our tradition of liberty in this country. We do not have to look very far around the world -- South Africa is the first place to look -- to see the abuse a national identification card can cause. In South Africa, it was used to classify people according to race. Everybody had to have one. Everybody had to carry it around. In this age of technology in a country that values liberty above everything else, there are a lot of questions about whether we should have a national ID card. Those ought to be explored in the Senate. We ought not push one through in a bill no one wants to vote against because it is primarily about supporting troops. When I was Governor of Tennessee, I twice vetoed the photo driver's license which we all now carry around in our pockets. I did that, first, because I thought it was an infringement upon civil liberties; and, second, I did it because I thought what would happen was we would have lines around the block of people waiting to get their photo ID card -- and that still happens sometimes -- but I was gradually overruled by the State legislature and we got an ID card. What helped getting overruled was when I showed up at the White House once to see the President at the National Governor's Conference and they asked to see my photo ID. I said: I don't have one. They asked: Why not? I said: Because I vetoed it. And I had to be vouched for by the Governor of Georgia. The push for this was law enforcement saying it would help with check cashing and other identification. While as a liberty-loving country, we say we do not want a national ID card, at the same time, we have allowed a de facto national ID card. That is a State driver's license. We have over 190 million of these. We all know the de facto driver's license ID cards are very ineffective. They are easily duplicated, they are often stolen, and we go around not just using them to prove we can drive, but we use them to get on airplanes, we use them to cash checks, and we use them to get a passport. They are not an effective ID card. I have reluctantly come to my conclusion. Despite the fact I vetoed those early ID cards, on September 11, one way our world has changed is we do need a national ID card. Maybe our discussion in committees would show we do not want one but that we want authorized two or three forms of identification cards which meet certain standards which can be used for different ways. For example, there could be a travel card that one could use to get on an airplane. If you had that travel card that allowed you to get on the airplane, you might use it for other purposes, as we have come to use the driver's licenses in that way or we might use the passport. About a quarter of Americans have passports, 68 million Americans. That is one form of an ID card though not as common as 196 million driver's licenses. There is also the Social Security card. My initial instinct is that a Social Security card that had the proper technology attached to it would be the wisest, the most effective, and most useful ID card because most of the immigration problems we have are related to work, either as a student or as a worker. It would be natural to have an ID card, to have a Social Security card such as the card we carry around in our pockets that also serves as a de facto national ID card. There was a case of the Swift Company, which was using, under our antiquated immigration laws, the basic pilot program, which is what we say to businesses to use if we want them to do everything they can to make sure they are only hiring people legally in the United States. Swift and other companies do that. Even if they do that, they cannot be assured that the people they are hiring are legally here because many of the Social Security numbers have been stolen, as it turns out, and it is against our laws to inquire too far into someone who applies for a job and presents evidence they are a citizen. Our laws say you cannot ask more questions to second-guess that. We have some work to do. All of us who think about the immigration issue -- which is what brought all this up, along with the September 11 disaster -- we think of the immigration issue and we think of the need for employer verification. For employers in this country to verify that people they hire are legally here, we are going to have to supply those employers, in some way, with the ability to ask for a good identification card. Perhaps it is the Social Security card, perhaps it is a travel card, perhaps it is a passport, perhaps it is a bank card, maybe there are two or three of those. That might be a way to avoid having a single card and could diminish the concern about civil liberties. Or maybe the needed ID is the driver's license, but I doubt it is the driver's license. Certainly, we should not expect the men and women in the Tennessee Department of Public Safety who are in charge of issuing a few million driver's licenses, to be turned into CIA agents whose job it is to catch terrorists. I don't think they are expected to do that. They are not prepared to do that. What we will be requiring is the citizens of the various States to show up to get their driver's license or a renewal with different forms of identification, some of which they may not have. It will be a very expensive process and a big mess. My first impression is that the State driver's license system is not the best place to look if we want to create an identification card. Here is my suggestion. My suggestion is we pay close attention to the Senator from Maine, Susan Collins, when we come back after the recess. She has a thoughtful recommendation to the Senate which suggests, over the next couple of years, we have time to look at this issue of whether we need a national identification card and what kind of identification card we might need. I hope the hearings would be held this year in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Judiciary Committee or whatever the appropriate committees might be, and then we might deal with this issue in the immigration bill which I hope we pass this year. We need a comprehensive immigration bill. That bill needs to have an employer verification system. I don't see how we can have an employer verification system without a good form of identification card. I hope we will deal with this in the way the Senate normally deals with issues; that is, through its committees, considering all of the options. In the meantime, we have the Real ID law in place with the estimate that it may cost up to $11 billion, a huge unfunded mandate. We have States saying we are going to opt out of that program. If they do, that means the citizens of Maine or Montana or some other State will not be allowed to fly on airplanes, for example, because they will not be from a State that has an approved ID card. That will create a lot more confusion and a lot more angry constituents. I am here today to wave a yellow flag, to remind Members of the Real ID issue. It may not be part of the 9/11 Commission recommendation when they come to the floor, but it is relevant and certainly germane. I hope the Senator from Maine will provoke a discussion of it, and we will move to delay its implementation until we can think this through and do it right. I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record an article I wrote for the Washington Post on Wednesday, March 30, 2005, about the Real ID and my views.