Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander “Real ID”

Posted on March 2, 2007

Nothing made me madder when I was governor than to have some congressman or senator come up with a big idea, put it into law, hold a press conference, take credit for it and then send me the bill. Then, they would usually be home at the Lincoln Day or Jackson Day dinner the next month making a big speech about local control. A great example of this is the Real ID law. This is a law that could only have been passed by congressmen who have never been to a driver’s license examiner’s office. It’s an unfunded federal mandate and would turn all the driver’s license examiners in all 50 states into CIA agents trying to identify who’s legally here and who’s a terrorist. It’s a preposterous proposal. The only reason it is law is because it was stuck on the back of a supplemental appropriations bill for Katrina and the troops in Iraq that the Senate had to accept. It would cost the states up to $11 billion over the next few years, but that’s not the worst part of it. It’s not the right way to deal with identity theft; that should have been done in a thoughtful way. We need to think about what we are doing with Real ID and to make sure that, 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 creating a national identification card with all the ramifications of that. We need to make sure that we don’t create an unfunded mandate with Real ID. Currently it is an $11 billion unfunded mandate on state governments over the next five years. What does that mean? It means 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. We didn’t have the opportunity to say anything about Real ID in the Senate. The Real ID Act came up in the House of Representatives and 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 imposed on every state in this country a total of $11 billion worth of unfunded mandates, and we created for the first time in the history of our 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 and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decided to delay implementation of the Real ID Act requirements by two years. The decision by DHS gives state governments two years to implement Real ID. It also gives Congress time to reconsider Real ID in light of the development of a biometric work card to stop illegal immigration. 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 liberties. But 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. Let's take time to think about any privacy issues that might result from a de facto national identification card, and let's make sure, if we are going to have an identification card, that Real ID is the best way to do it.