What: All Issues HR 2638 (Fiscal 2008 Homeland Security appropriations), motion to kill an amendment that would give states $300 million to comply with new driver's license and identification card requirements/On the motion to table (2007 senate Roll Call 279)
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HR 2638 (Fiscal 2008 Homeland Security appropriations), motion to kill an amendment that would give states $300 million to comply with new driver's license and identification card requirements/On the motion to table
senate Roll Call 279     Jul 26, 2007
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This vote was on a procedural motion to "table" – or kill – an amendment offered by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., to the bill that funds the Homeland Security Department. Alexander's amendment sought to allocate $300 million for states to implement the requirements of a program known as REAL ID, which was mandated in 2005 as part of an unrelated bill intended to fund military spending and tsunami relief. It would have offset this spending by trimming .08 percent from each account in the bill, sometimes called a "haircut."

Prompted by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, where several hijackers were able to board airplanes using fraudulent identification cards, the REAL ID law requires that all states' drivers' licenses comply with national standards designed to make the licenses more difficult to falsify. People with drivers' licenses issued by states that fail to comply with these provisions could find their licenses not honored for certain purposes, such as boarding an airplane or entering a federal building.

These changes, which security hawks say will create a valuable anti-terror tool, were in part recommended by the 9/11 Commission, which was put together to evaluate America's response to the terrorist attacks. However, the mandate was put in place without enough funding for most states to implement the program. Alexander argued that states need this grant money because they are ill equipped to handle the volume of people who would have to have their drivers' licenses switched to the new format. As well, Alexander complained that the federal government has given states a mandate to meet these standards, but given them no extra resources to help defray the costs, which the National Governors Association placed at $11 billion. So far, 17 states have already passed laws barring state participation in the REAL ID program, which is set to begin in 2008.

But many progressives would just as soon leave it unfunded. They argue that REAL ID would establish a de facto "national identification" program, along with an Orwellian national database of citizens' identification information that could pose serious risks to privacy.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, helped kill Alexander's amendment. Byrd agreed that REAL ID will impose "serious costs" on states, However, he noted that Congress has allocated $35 million for helping states implement REAL ID, none of which has been spent so far. Byrd also noted that the administration's budget request – the document that outlines the White House's spending priorities in the year to come – didn't contain a request for money to implement REAL ID. "Given that there is $35 million still sitting at the department and that we have no request from the White House, this bill is not the place to fix this problem," Byrd said. Byrd also could not resist a dig at the White House by pointing out that the REAL ID law was a Republican initiative that was "jammed down Congress's throat in an unamendable war supplemental."

It is likely that some of Byrd's opposition came from defending his turf. His Appropriations Committee is solely responsible for actually expending taxpayers' money, and its members often cry foul when other lawmakers try to tinker with their

spending priorities.

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, echoed many of Byrd's concerns, and said that an appropriations bill is not an appropriate place to put the amendment. "So I am going to oppose the amendment because I think it should be done legislatively, and the problem cannot be solved with adding money and adding new language which is legislative in nature. I hope the Senate will carefully review the options we have and try to do the responsible thing," Cochran said.

Democrats succeeded in killing the amendment on a fairly close 50-44 party-line vote, though there were some Republicans who voted in favor of leaving REAL ID unfunded: privacy-conscious senators such as John Sununu, R-N.H., and appropriators such as Cochran who are ever vigilant about protecting their jurisdiction. Thus, the amendment that would have allocated $300 million to help states implement REAL ID was defeated, and debate on the Homeland Security appropriations measure continued.

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