Speeches & Floor Statements

Remarks Of Sen. Alexander - Real ID Act

Posted on May 10, 2005

The supplemental appropriations bill is going to come up. We are going to vote on it. I commend the chairman of the committee for accomplishing what is a difficult job -- getting a body that operates by unanimous consent to agree on something and moving it through. The purpose of the bill is to support the men and women who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was there about a month ago. There are so many Tennesseans in Kuwait and Afghanistan and Iraq that it seemed like a Tennessee homecoming. There are literally thousands there -- the postmasters of Winfield and Rob Camp. The president of the Rotary Club in Lexington, a physician, just came home. The editor of the newspaper in Dyersburg, two deputy sheriffs from my home county, the superintendent of schools from Athens -- these are people in the Reserves or in the National Guard with mortgages and families and jobs, with money and insurance issues at home. They are fighting for us. Some are dying, and they are risking their lives every day. Of course I want to vote to spend every penny we need to spend to support them and to keep them safe. Once we set forward on a mission, on a military mission, we should have the stomach to see it all the way through to the end in a success strategy, not an exit strategy, and to support the American men and women whom we ask to go. That does not stop me from objecting and expressing my disappointment to two provisions in the bill. One is the so-called REAL ID Act. Actually, unlike a lot of legislation we pass here, this is well named. This really is a national identification card for the United States of America for the first time in our history. We have never done this before, and we should not be doing it without a full debate. This REAL ID provision turns 190 million driver's licenses, which are now ineffective ID cards, into more effective national identification cards. To add insult to injury, we have also slapped state governments with the bill for them. I strongly object to this. When I was Governor of Tennessee, I vetoed our state ID card twice because I thought it was an infringement on civil liberties. I thought that driver's licenses are for driving. If we need an ID card, we should have an ID card. The legislature overruled me. I actually had to get one of those cards myself in order to get into the White House, so I lost that battle. So I am very reluctant for this country to have a national ID card. But I reluctantly concluded that, after 9/11, we have to have one and that we ought to be thinking about what would be the best kind of ID card. I believe the right way to consider that is when we are dealing with comprehensive legislation on immigration, which I hope we do this year, and tackle that problem and the best way to do it. Is the best way to do it to turn the driver's licenses examiners in all the States of the country issuing 190 million driver's licenses into CIA agents? I don't know what it is like in Ohio or other states, but in Tennessee the driver's licenses examiners by and large are there for the purpose of figuring out whether you can parallel park and to take your picture. They are not trained to tell whether you are an Al-Qaeda terrorist. They are not trained in order to review four different documents and then look at 10,000, maybe 20,000 different databases around the country. I wonder whether it is even the right approach, in terms of having a national ID card, to rely on driver's licenses. Maybe we should be relying on passports. That has been an efficient system in this country. Or maybe even better, and I suspect this would be better, we should turn the Social Security card -- which is directly related to work, which is the subject of the discussion and most of the concern about immigration -- into a more definite kind of identification. But no; instead, without one single hearing in the Senate about a national ID card -- which we might not, under our Constitution, even be able to require to be presented to a law enforcement officer -- we just pass one, and then we send the bill to the states. Here we are, a Republican Congress who got elected in 1994 promising to end unfunded mandates -- and the Senator in the chair was one of the leaders in doing that -- and what do we do, we come up with this big idea, pass it, hold a press conference, and send the bill to the governors. We do that time after time after time, and we should not be doing that. That is not the way our system works. It is possible that some Governor may look at this and say: Wait a minute, who are these people in Washington telling us what to do with our driver's licenses and making us pay for them, too? We will just use our own licenses for certifying drivers, and Congress can create its own ID card for people who want to fly and do other Federal things. And if Congress doesn't do that, then we will give out the home telephone numbers of all the Congressmen and let the people -- of California, say -- call everybody up here and say, “why did you keep me off the airplane when I needed to get somewhere?” That is what we have done. We have just assumed that every single State will want to ante up, turn its driver's licenses examiners into CIA agents, and pay hundreds of millions of dollars to do an almost impossible task over the next 3 years. We did that without any recognition in this legislation that we are not the state government, we are the federal government, and, if we want a national ID card, we should be creating a federal ID card. If we want the states to create one, we should talk to them about it, and then we should pay for it. So in the end, the states will pay the costs. In the end, the states will listen to the complaints from citizens who are going to be standing in long lines while they search for four kinds of identification; the driver's license examiner tries to connect with thousands of databases, which they have no capacity to do today. The states will take the blame when somebody uses a driver's license inappropriately. The REAL ID Act has been structured in such a way that it is not technically an unfunded mandate, but anybody listening to this debate knows it violates the spirit of our promises in 1994 and 1995 not to do this anymore. So I intend to offer an amendment at the appropriate time that will have two main points, but the overall point is to have the federal government pay for the cost of this new requirement that the states have no choice but to accept. It will allow states to submit documentation to the Department of Homeland Security of what the costs are, and it will establish a process to pay the annual increase in those costs. I wish we had done this in a different way. I think we should have honestly faced the fact that we now need some sort of national identification card. I say that reluctantly because, as I said, I vetoed even a state card. But times have changed. But to do this without a hearing and without our tradition of respect for civil liberties and our respect for federalism, I think is wrong.