It's just beyond me why more Congressional Democrats have not seized upon Real ID as an issue that could split the Republican party down the middle.
From almost every perspective, the 2005 Real ID Act is reprehensible. Its most obnoxious component creates in effect a national ID card by imposing draconian restrictions upon how states may issue drivers licenses. It requires the states to conduct expensive (and essentially impossible) background checks, and create and share databases with extensive personal information for all drivers. It also requires that airline passengers and anyone seeking to enter a federal building in the future must present a Real ID, or face extensive screening and delays. There's every reason to believe that in the not too distant future, the uses of this nascent national ID card would be extended both in public and private spheres until it became nearly impossible to do without one. Furthermore, the state databases would almost certainly be fed into federal systems, including data-mining programs like Total Information Awareness (or whatever the government is calling its Orwellian program now). It's hard to believe as well that these vast state databases could be kept secure from snoopers and identity-thieves, when so many "low-level" employees will have direct, daily access to them. Real ID is a nightmarishly bad idea.
Drafted by the slightly daft James Sensenbrenner and inserted in the conference report for a must-pass emergency appropriation bill (for tsunami relief), Real ID was enacted without debate, without hearings, without input from Democrats. Like the Patriot Act, also rushed through in an underhanded and undemocratic way, Real ID gives the federal government sweeping powers – some of them apparently unconstitutional – while suppressing the means to resist it. For example, Real ID has a provision stripping courts of jurisdiction in any federal seizure of private land in the "vicinity" of national borders, for vaguely defined security purposes.
Real ID is opposed fervently by voters and interest groups across the political spectrum, especially among liberals and libertarians but also many small-government and states-rights conservatives. It's constituency consists mainly of Sensenbrenner, Michael Chertoff, the Heritage Foundation, neocon bedwetters, and the extreme fringes of the anti-immigrant booboisie.
It's widely resented in nearly every corner of the country, especially in western states where Democrats are positioned to capitalize on growing resentment of Republican arrogance and abuse of power. Gov. Schweitzer of Montana has told the federal government it can "go to hell" as far as pushing Real ID on his state.
Very few states are even remotely eager to implement the ID requirements, if only because they amount to a hefty unfunded mandate. The Real ID Act also represents a direct challenge to the states' co-equal status with the federal government, as enshrined in the Tenth Amendment. Fully 19 state legislatures have passed bills or resolutions opposing Real ID: AR, CO, GA, HI, ID, IL, ME, MI, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, ND, OK, SC, TN, UT, and WA. Most of the remaining states are considering similar proposals.
Indeed Arizona is on the verge of joining the states resisting Real ID:
"I have problems with both Real ID and the 3-in-1 driver's license and the reason is the same for both. They are way too intrusive, and they won't make us any safer," said state Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix.
"I hope they both go down in flames," said state Sen. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa. "I think we're doing fine with what we have."
That could cause John McCain some embarrassment this year. Of the presidential candidates only McCain backs this boondoggle, whereas Barack Obama strongly opposes it.
Opposition makes good politics across the country. For example, of Real ID's critics on Capitol Hill, few are more prominent than Tom Allen. If enacted his bill to repeal Real ID, H.R. 1117, could give Allen a major boost in his Senate race in Maine, the state that has led the national opposition to the Act. Yet depressingly Allen's bill is stalled in the House subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and Procurement, where it was referred one year ago today.
This is just another instance in which Democrats are handed an emotive issue to belabor the Republican party with. It's an issue dear to Democrats at the state-level around the country, one that could solidify support among Independents while fracturing the Republican base. It could help to revolutionize the image of the Democratic party as a bulwark of individual rights. And yet Democrats in Congress sniff and turn away, almost as if the issue were beneath them.
And yet the Bush administration has shown again and again that it's desperate to avoid being cornered on the issue. DHS has quietly abandoned some of the law's more onerous requirements, and twice postponed the implementation of Real ID. This January's "final rule" allows states to push the first phase of implementation back until 2010 as long as they submit a written request for an extension to DHS by March 31.
Except that several states, including Maine and South Carolina, have declined to request an extension. New Hampshire sent DHS a letter that was rejected as insufficiently submissive.
Something remarkable happened this week when Montana refused to ask for an extension. The response from DHS was to give Montana an extension anyway. It's clear that DHS backed down from a confrontation it knows it cannot win.
Montana governor Brian Schweitzer declared victory Friday after the Department of Homeland Security sent his state an extension to the Real ID act, despite his insistence Montana will never comply with a mandate he describes as a "boondoggle."
"If I were writing the headline, it would be 'DHS Blinks," Schweitzer, a Democrat, told THREAT LEVEL by phone late Friday.
The AP adds:
Schweitzer, Montana's Democratic governor, said his state had not backed down.
"We sent them a horse. If they choose to call it a zebra, that is their business," said Schweitzer.
The agency's approach to Montana could provide an easy way out for the remaining states resistant to Real ID — and suggests the federal government doesn't want to go ahead with its plan to conduct extra screening on residents of certain states.
The deadline this month, and DHS' absurd threat to disrupt airline screening for passengers from non-compliant states, is causing even more states to think about standing up to Chertoff. California is now edging in that direction, sending in a letter that pointedly refrains from declaring that it will implement Real ID. And just as quickly DHS is trying to sweep the confrontation under the carpet.
Homeland Security spokesman Laura Keehner...said California's commitment to thinking about commitment is good enough.
"For right now, there is nothing that says they will not comply with Real ID," Keehner said.
For the Bush administration, then, it's about saving face. Now is the time for Democrats to go on the offensive on Real ID. The cracks have already appeared in the wall; why not drive home the wedge?
I'd urge you to contact the Democratic members of the House Government Management, Organization, and Procurement subcommittee and ask them to move on Tom Allen's bill to repeal Real ID (H.R. 1117):
Update Here are some good recent diaries about Real ID: On Susan Collins' attempt to stem opposition to it in Maine (by ACLU); on Rep. Tom Allen's bill in Congress (by Spud1); and on Gov. Brian Schweitzer's smack down of DHS (by JayAckroyd).