Speeches & Floor Statements

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

Posted on February 28, 2007

Madam President, I thank the Senator from Maine and I salute the Senator from Maine. She is paying close attention not just to the security of our country but the fact that we need strong States and cities in our country at the same time. She, obviously, is in tune with people in Maine because they, like people in Tennessee and other States, have taken a look at the so-called REAL ID law and wondered what we are doing up here. She has made a very thoughtful and sensible suggestion, which is that we delay for 2 years the implementation of the so-called REAL ID law, and let's make sure we know what we are doing. Now, Senator Collins, because she is ranking member of the committee that deals with homeland security and a former chairman, and because she served in State government, is more sensitive to this than perhaps some of our colleagues. But she understands it is very easy for those of us in Washington to stand up here and come up with a big idea and think it might be a good idea, and then turn it into a law and hold a press conference and take credit for it, and then send the bill to the Governor and the legislature and say: You pay for it. Senator Collins is more polite about this than I might be. Nothing used to make me madder when I was Governor than for legislators and Congressmen to do just that: to pass a big bill, take credit for it, and send the bill to the State. Then that same Congressman would usually be back in Tennessee making a Lincoln Day speech or a Jefferson Day speech or a Jackson Day speech about local control and saying how we need strong States and strong cities, but they dumped a big unfunded mandate on top of us. So let me see if I can be in support of Senator Collins, who has made a very reasonable, sensible amendment: First, to think about what we are doing with REAL ID and to make sure if we want to continue down this path, we do it in a way that respects the privacy of Americans. We are, after all, for the first time in our history actually creating a national identification card with all the ramifications of that. That is what the REAL ID law did. Second, to make sure that we don't create an unfunded mandate. The Republican Congress in 1994 was ushered in claiming no more unfunded mandates. The Congressmen stood on the steps over there in the House and said: If we break our promise, throw us out. Well, they threw us out this past election, so why would we persist with unfunded mandates? This is an $11 billion unfunded mandate on State governments over the next 5 years. What does that mean? Higher property taxes, higher tuition costs, less funding for higher education so we can stay competitive with China and India, less money for lower classroom sizes, and less money for rewarding outstanding teachers. That is what unfunded mandates will mean, so we shouldn't do that. Then the third thing that is unfortunate about this REAL ID law that passed is we didn't have the opportunity to say anything about it over here in the Senate. Now, we are not always the wisest people in Washington, DC, but we have half the say. The REAL ID Act came up in the House of Representatives. It was stuffed into the supplemental appropriations bill for Katrina and the troops in Iraq. So of course we had to vote for the bill. We had no chance to amend it, no debate, no hearings, and no consideration of other alternatives. Yet we impose on every State in this country a total of $11 billion worth of unfunded mandates, and we create for the first time in the history of a liberty-loving nation a national identification card. I would say we wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't stop and think about what we have done. Fortunately, we have time to stop and think about it, because while the law has been passed, it is not implemented yet. Here is what Senator Collins has done, and I give her great credit for this. For her to introduce this amendment is especially useful because of her position as former chairman of the affected committee and now its ranking member. She has quickly attracted several cosponsors, Republicans and Democrats. She would extend the deadline for compliance with REAL ID to 2 years after final regulations are issued by the Department of Homeland Security. Now, from the point of view of a Governor, that makes sense. If I were sitting back in Nashville, I would say: Well, now, Madam Congressman or Mr. Congressman, you are not going to expect me to take 3 or 4 million Tennesseans and run them through the State driver's license offices and find out if they are terrorists or if they are illegally here, or send them back home to grandma's attic and dig up their birth certificates, are you? I mean how many Tennesseans have their birth certificates handy? How many want to go back to the driver's license office and stand in line? That is a lot of people, 3 or 4 million people, and that is only Tennessee. There are over 196 million people with driver's licenses in the United States. There is another section or two in Senator Collins' amendment. She gives a little more discretion to the Secretary of DHS to waive State deadlines. That is a reasonable approach. She reestablishes the negotiated rulemaking committee that was created as part of the National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004. That means in plain English that States that have the job of implementing this law will have a chance to come to the Federal Government and say: Well, in Minnesota, we have longer lines during this part of the year because it snows and shorter lines during that part of the year because there is ice. And in other times of the year people are fishing on their lakes, and so we have some local conditions here. This gives more time to take into consideration the local conditions. Also, it requires figuring out what a fair system of reimbursement is. Here are the figures I have seen: Apparently we have appropriated $40 million for this. The Senator from Maine is nodding her head. Yet, the Governors tell us it is going to cost $11 billion. We have appropriated $40 million. They say it is going to cost $11 billion. We have a 60-vote point of order against unfunded Federal mandates. We couldn't even raise that when this went through like a freight train in the middle of a Katrina and troops-in-Iraq bill. There would have to be 60 votes in order to impose on the States this kind of financial burden. So that is basically it. This amendment says let's stop and think about this since this is the first national identification card we have ever had in this country. And since it is a massive unfunded mandate that would have the effect, if the Governors are right, of raising State taxes, raising tuition, cutting the amount of money available for colleges and competitiveness, cutting money for reducing classroom size, and cutting money for State health care plans. Then the third thing is we had no discussion -- I don't believe there was a single hearing anywhere in the Senate -- about this bill. I am delighted to have a chance to be a cosponsor of this legislation that Senator Collins has introduced. I will say one other thing about this idea of a national identification card. I have lived long enough to have changed my mind a few times on important issues. When I was Governor of Tennessee, I vetoed twice the photo identification card I now carry in my billfold because I thought it was an infringement on civil liberties and I didn't think it was anybody's business to have my picture on the identification card. Well, the retailers wanted it for check cashing, and law enforcement people wanted it so they could catch more criminals. So the legislature overrode me. Plus, when I tried to get into the White House one time as Governor, they wouldn't let me in because I didn't have a photo identification card and I said: Well, I vetoed it, and they didn't think that was a good reason. The Governor of Georgia had to vouch for me, and after that indignity, Tennessee finally got a photo identification card. We have a right in America to be skeptical of national identification cards. We love liberty more than anything in this country, and that could infringe on our liberty. We have seen what happened in South Africa when people carried around passports and they were classified based on race, and their lives, their activities, everything about them was regulated that way. We can think back on Nazi Germany and other totalitarian countries where so much information was on a single card that it gave the Government a good chance to keep up with every single person. I have changed my mind after 9/11. I believe we need a national identification card of some kind, and we, in fact, have one now. It is a de facto identification card. We call it the driver's license, but it is completely ineffective. It gets stolen. It gets copied. We show it when we go through the line at an airport. For a long time, mine said on the front that it expired in the year 2000, but if you turn it over, it said 2005. Well, at the airport they never turned it over so it is not a very effective identification card, and that is the impetus for the REAL ID. I understand that. The first thought was let's take all of these 196 million driver's licenses and turn them into identification cards, but that might not be the best thought. There are other options. For example, we might need a work card in the United States. A lot of the impetus for this came from immigration problems. Since many of the immigration problems are the result of people wanting to come here and work, maybe one way to think about identity theft is to say: Let's have a Social Security card that is biometric and let people apply for that; let people who get new cards get that, and let's have a work card. Or maybe we need a travel card for people who want to travel on airplanes, and they would have a travel card. Maybe we need to expand the number of passports. Twenty-five percent of us have passports. I am not sure what the right answer is. My instinct is that probably a work card would be a good card to have. Maybe we ought to have two or three cards that meet certain Federal requirements, any of which could be used for other identification purposes. That way we would technically avoid having the national identification card, but for convenience, people could have a work card, a travel card, and a passport. All of those are just ideas. But I wouldn't suggest that the Senate wait until midnight and take Senator Alexander's ideas, ram them through, and send them to the House and tell them to pass them with the next Iraq supplemental bill just because we thought of it. I think it would be better to let Senator Lieberman and Senator Collins and others consider all of these options very carefully. I think it might be best when we get to the immigration bill and we talk about having an employer identification system, because that is going to be an essential part of the comprehensive immigration bill. Well, if that is the case, then we are probably going to need some kind of work card. If that is the case, we might end up with a secure Social Security card. If that is the case, we might not need REAL ID at all. So that is an even better reason to adopt the Collins amendment, because between now and the expiration of 2 years, we should pass a comprehensive immigration bill here in Congress. In fact, if we don't, we should all be severely criticized, because it is our job to do it. So I urge my colleagues respectfully to look at the Collins amendment and see it as a reasonable approach. It says: Let's delay 2 years. Let's hold some hearings. Let's ask the States to be more involved in what the cost is. Let's think about any privacy issues that might result from a de facto national identification card, and let's even make sure, if we are going to have an identification card, that the idea of using driver's licenses is the best way to do it. As my last comment, I would underscore the fact that there are a number of States already considering taking the action Maine has already taken, the Senator's State, in passing a resolution rejecting the REAL ID card. Those are Hawaii, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Washington State. If the REAL ID card were to go into effect in those States in May, next spring, and they didn't have the REAL ID card, according to the law they can't fly on a commercial airplane. Well, that is going to create a situation I don't think any Member of this Senate wants to see. So I am here to salute the Senator from Maine for being diligent in protecting our liberty and in protecting the rights of State and local governments, and making sure that if we are going to have some kind of more secure card, whether it is a driver's license or a work card, a travel card, or even a passport, that we do it right after we have suitable hearings. I am proud to be a cosponsor of the Collins amendment, and I thank the Senator for yielding time to me.