Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)

Real ID

Posted on July 25, 2007

Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, this amendment, the Alexander-Collins-Voinovich-Warner amendment, has to do with the law we call REAL ID. I will describe REAL ID in a moment, but fundamentally what the amendment proposes is to offer $300 million in funding to the States to implement REAL ID. The offset would be a .8-percent across-the-board cut in the rest of the bill. The total bill is $37 billion, more or less. I know that offset is not one the chairman and ranking member of the committee are likely to approve of, but during our committee discussions I offered other offsets which weren't approved of, and I feel strongly that if the Congress requires the States to adopt REAL ID or something similar to REAL ID, then the Congress ought to pay for it -- hence the $300 million amendment. Someone once said about me last year -- and I haven't been here very long, this is my fifth year as a Senator, but I have been around a while -- they said the problem with Lamar is he hasn't gotten over being Governor, which I was privileged to be in my home State of Tennessee for several years. I hope when I get over being Governor, the people of Tennessee send me home because I think one of the contributions I can make is to remind the Congress and remind the country that our country's strengths begin with strong communities and strong counties and strong cities and strong States and that the central government, according to our traditions and our Constitution, is for the rest of the things that States, communities, cities and counties can't do. According to the 10th amendment and its spirit, if we require it of the State and local governments from here, we should fund it from here. Nothing used to make me more angry as a Governor than for some Senator or Congressman to pass a bill with a big-sounding idea in Washington, DC, hold a press conference, take credit for it, and then send the bill to me to pay. Then that same Senator or Congressman more than likely would be back in Tennessee within the next few weeks making a big speech at the Lincoln Day or Jackson Day dinner about local control. This is such an important issue that the 1994 elections turned on it, to a great extent. I remember dozens of Republican Congressmen and candidates standing with Newt Gingrich on the Capitol steps, saying: No more unfunded Federal mandates. If we break our promise, send us home. That may be one of the reasons the Republican Congress got sent home last year, because we hadn't paid enough attention to that promise. I can remember Senator Dole, when he was the majority leader in the Senate in 1995. He was campaigning for President, campaigning around the country and I was often at the same events. He would hold up his copy of the Constitution and talk about the 10th amendment. That is the spirit I wish to talk about today. The REAL ID Act began in a good way. The 9/11 Commission recommended, in some fairly vague language, that we needed to improve our identification documents in the United States. The Commission found that: All but one of the 9/11 hijackers acquired some form of U.S. Identification document, some by fraud. Acquisition of these documents would have assisted them in boarding commercial flights, renting cars, and other necessary activities. So said the 9/11 Commission. The Commission added that the Federal Government should: ...set standards for the issuance of...sources of identification, such as drivers' licenses. Fraud in identification documents is no longer just a problem of theft. The Congress began to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission soon thereafter, and in December of 2004 the Senate passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 which called for States to create secure driver's licenses and ID cards under section 7212 of the bill. It established a negotiated rulemaking process that included State government officials, which was a direct effort to deal with the problem I discussed. Through that, standards would be promulgated that would make it more difficult to create and obtain fraudulent driver's licenses. The purpose of the negotiated rulemaking process was so that as Congress said that our national needs called for more secure documents, the State and local governments could say let us talk with you about the realities at home, about what we use driver's licenses for, about how many there are, about what the cost would be of implementing new standards, and about how long it might take. In addition, we might have some other ideas about a different kind of secure document that might be better than a driver's license for this purpose. And there are some privacy standards we are worried about. In addition to that, the experience with national identification cards around the world hasn't been all that promising. In Nazi Germany it wasn't a good story. Those who remember the more recent history of South Africa, when every citizen had a card to carry around which would decree what their race is and whether they were of mixed blood, that sort of "Big Brother"attitude is of great concern in the land of liberty, the United States of America. So the negotiated rulemaking process was to take into account all of that. Then came along the REAL ID Act of 2005 in the midst of all this careful consideration. It was attached to the emergency supplemental appropriations bill of 2005. In other words, it was stuck in, by the House of Representatives, on the troop funding bill and it was signed into law by the President in May. We had no choice but to pass it. We had our men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq. We had to pay the bills for their service. This was just stuck in there. We had to vote it up or down and REAL ID became law. The Senate didn't hold any hearings. It was swept through Congress. The REAL ID Act superseded that negotiated rulemaking process included in the Intelligence Reform bill, in which the States and the Federal Government were working back and forth to set minimum standards for State driver's licenses in an effort to deter terrorists. REAL ID established a de facto national ID card by setting Federal standards for State driver's licenses and making the States create and issue them. One might say the States don't have to do it. They don't have to do it unless they want their citizens to be unable to fly on airplanes or obtain other necessary Federal services. It is a Hobson's choice. So, in effect, the REAL ID law, with no hearings, no consideration of whether there might be some other kind of card or set of different cards that would be more appropriate, became law. The States had to comply with that and that meant 245 million U.S. driver's licenses or ID holders would have to get new identification. The Department of Homeland Security has not yet issued final regulations of this massive act, even though the States are supposed to be ready to comply with these new standards and measures by May 11 of next year, 2008. Final regulations are expected to be released in the early fall, and this will give States just months to reach the May 2008 deadline. It is true that, thanks to Senator Collins and others, and our willingness to forgo an amendment earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security agreed to grant waivers to States to delay implementation. But, still, under the present route, 245 million people in America will need to get new ID cards by May of 2013. REAL ID is a massive unfunded mandate on the States to begin with. Last fall the National Governors Association and others released a study putting the cost of REAL ID at $11 billion over 5 years. The Department of Homeland Security itself said the cost may reach $20 billion over 10 years. To date, the Federal Government has appropriated $40 million for the States to comply with REAL ID, and only $6 million of the $40 million has actually been given to the States. Here we go again. After a lot of promises from Washington, DC, on this side of the aisle and on that side of the aisle -- we say no more unfunded mandates, but we have a real big idea, we announce it, take credit for it and send the bill to the Governors and the legislatures. We let them worry about whether to raise college tuitions, raise property taxes, or cut services over here -- worry how do we pay for this new mandate? No wonder 17 States now have passed legislation opposing the REAL ID Act, including Tennessee, which became the 16th State on June 11 of this year. To get an idea of what REAL ID would require, first, you have to prove the applicant's identity, which would take a passport, birth certificate, a consular report -- there are a number of other documents that could be used. Then you have to prove your date of birth. That might mean you have to bring in two documents. Then you have to prove your Social Security number. That might mean you have to go find your Social Security card. I wonder how many people have their Social Security card today. You are up to three documents. You need the address of your principal residence -- you have to prove that. Then you have to prove you are lawfully here. That is not just for someone who is becoming a citizen or someone coming here, this is for every single person who drives a car or gets an ID; he or she has to prove they are lawfully here under REAL ID. In all the States, that is 245 million people. In Tennessee last year, there were 1,711,000, new or renewed driver's licenses. I renewed mine by mail; 154,000 renewed theirs online. There will be no mail renewals, there will be no online renewals in Tennessee or Maryland or Mississippi or Washington State. Everybody will get to go to the driver's license office. There are 53 of those in Tennessee, and 1.7 million of us will show up at those 53 offices, not just at one time, not just in 1 week, but just in 1 month, scrambling around, trying to figure out what documents we need to have. I can imagine there are going to be phone calls coming into our offices that make the phone calls on immigration look like a Sunday school class. We need only look at the recent passport backlog to imagine what might happen with the REAL ID backlog. We remember that the passport quagmire in which we have been in the last few months was triggered by a very well intentioned policy change designed to thwart terrorists. Specifically, new rules were implemented in January of 2007 requiring Americans to have passports for travel between the United States and Canada, Mexico and most of the islands of the Caribbean. This caused a massive surge in passport applications. There were 12 million passports issued in 2006. The State Department expects to issue 17 million this year -- a 42-percent increase. Prior to the passport regulations, applications were increasing at a rate of 1 to 2 million a year. We are expecting an increase of 5 million applications from 2006 to 2007. In March of this year, there was a backlog of 3 million passports. The current backlog is 2.3 million passports. Prior to the new regulations, turnaround time was 6 weeks on regular service and 2 weeks on expedited service. At the worst part of this year, they were running 12 to 14 weeks on regular service and 4 to 6 weeks on expedited service. This massive backlog destroyed summer vacations, ruined wedding and honeymoon plans, disrupted business meetings and educational trips, caused people to lose days of work waiting in line, and caused people to lose money for nonrefundable travel and hotel deposits and reservations. My office has worked with the passport office over the last few months. I would compliment them for the dedication of the employees and how they were trying to deal with this massive surge, but we imposed upon them a burden they simply could not handle. What do we say to the people of Tennessee: Show up at our 53 driver's license offices with the correct documentation; otherwise, you may wait for 2 hours, you get up to the window, and then they tell you’ve forgotten your Social Security card and you must come back again. If they show up over 1 month, this is going to make the passport application surge look like a small problem. I believe we have a choice in Congress. I think insofar as REAL ID goes, we should either fund it or we should repeal it. Fund it or repeal it. It may be that we need to have a national identification card. I have always been opposed to that, but we live in a different era now. But I would much prefer to have seen the Senate debate this in the usual way and let us consider, for example, whether a secure work card, such as the kind Senator Schumer and Senator Graham have proposed and Senator Cornyn and I have talked about, might not be a better form of ID card. Most of our immigration problems, for example, are related to work. Maybe a secure identification card would be better, a secure Social Security card would be better, or maybe, because of privacy concerns and our memory of Nazi Germany and our memory of South Africa, we want to be very careful about having anything that is actually called a national ID card or even a de facto ID card. So maybe we can work over a period of years and help to create several cards: maybe a travel card that some can use on airplanes or other forms of travel; maybe a work card; maybe some States would want to use the driver's license as that form of ID card. But the point would be that there would be three or four choices which could be used for ID which would be secure and would help with the terrorism threat we face. I regret very much that we did not have a chance to take this problem, this recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, properly through the Senate and consider it. I was glad to see the legislation that created the negotiated rulemaking process that at least involved the States in what is going on. We have an obligation in this body to recognize the fact that if we are going to have something called REAL ID -- and according to our own Department of Homeland Security, it is going to cost $20 billion over 10 years -- then we have a responsibility to appropriate that money or most of that money to pay for it. Today, we are at $40 million. That is why Senator Collins and Senator Warner and Senator Voinovich and I intend to offer this amendment to the appropriations bill to provide $300 million in funding to the States to implement REAL ID. In the meantime, I am going to work with other Senators to either reestablish the negotiated rulemaking process or to repeal REAL ID and let us move ahead with a different way of developing a secure identification card.