Money withheldfor national ID cards
bill provides moratorium
By David M. Bresnahan
The recently passed Omnibus Appropriations Bill included funding for $520 billion of spending, but it purposely excluded funds for the national ID card or the medical ID program.
A review of the bill, which had over 4,000 pages and is 16 inches thick, revealed that the opponents of the effort to make state driver's licences into a national ID card succeeded in getting a moratorium on the implementation of the law enacted in 1996 by Congress.
Both the national ID and the medical ID have already been made law. The moratorium delays implementation from occurring on schedule while repeal legislation is debated by Congress.
The national ID became law in 1996 and will go in effect October 1, 2000, unless Congress repeals Section 656 (b) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.
If the law is not changed, every state must meet certain unfunded federal mandates requiring the use of Social Security numbers, fingerprints, DNA, retina scans, and other "biometric" identifying information on all driver's licences.
Another federal mandate is the medical ID, which will be a new unique number for every American intended to keep a detailed medical history in a government computer. It will be implemented unless Congress acts to repeal Section 1173 (b) of the Social Security Act.
The moratorium was first included in a transportation appropriations bill, but Rep. Lamar Smith, R-TX, convinced Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-GA, to remove it before passage, according to House Transportation Committee sources. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-VA, chairman of the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee included the ban in the omnibus bill, according to a committee staff member. However, Smith was reported to be pushing to have that removed as well. Those efforts failed, largely because of thousands of calls placed to Gingrich's office by the public, according to congressional staffers who preferred not to be identified.
Patrick Poole of the "Free Congress Foundation," a non-partisan group, sent thousands of e-mails to supporters who then called Gingrich to encourage him to keep the moratorium despite the efforts of Smith. WorldNetDaily.com reported Monday that Smith was trying to remove the ban.
"Many of the callers either faxed copies of stories from WorldNetDaily, or they mentioned it when they called," the source said. "There was no way the speaker could support Smith's efforts with that kind of public awareness."
The actual language found in the Omnibus Bill states:
"None of the funds appropriated by this Act may be used to issue a final standard under docket No. NHTSA 98-3945 (relating to section 656(b) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act of 1996).
"National Health Identifiers:
None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to promulgate or adopt any final standard under section 1173(b) of the Social Security Act (42 USC 1320-d-2(b)) providing for, or providing for the assignment of, a unique health identifier for an individual (except in an individual's capacity as an employer or a health care provider), until legislation is enacted specifically approving the standard."
The moratorium, now in place, will provide needed time for opponents to draft legislation to repeal both the National ID and the Medical ID. The process is expected to bring major debate over the issue. Smith and others have used illegal immigration problems as their primary justification for the need to give every American both identifying numbers.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-TX, Rep. Ron Paul, R-TX, and Rep. Bob Barr, R-GA, are reported to be planning repeal legislation next year. None of their offices were able to be reached for comment on the success of the moratorium in the Omnibus Bill. It had been reported previously that all three had urged Gingrich to allow the moratorium to stand.
Responsibility for the design and implementation of the cards has been given to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the Department of Transportation. That agency has recently published the proposed "Driver's License/SSN/National Identification Document," which contains the guidelines which must be in force by Oct. 1, 2000. The "Notice of Proposed Rule Making" sets out the standards for each state to follow in the design of "identification documents."
The DOT solicited public comments on their plans for implementation of Section 656 (b) of the act earlier this year. The public comment period has just closed and many thousands of letters in opposition were received, according to a spokesman. Five states also expressed opposition to the plan, and only a "small number" of letters supporting the plan were known to the spokesman, who spoke on condition that his name would not be published.
The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators also wrote to the DOT and recommended repeal of the law, even though they had once been in favor of such legislation.
"Over the past 10 years, the AAMVA has vigorously pushed Congress and the various state motor vehicle directors to implement policies to require the submission of social security numbers as a condition for issuance of driver's licenses. This resounding defeat may spell the end of their ill-fated quest," said Scott McDonald, a grass-roots activist who operates the "Fight the Fingerprint" website. He is able to mobilize thousands of activists on a national basis using his e-mail notification system.
"There is no satisfactory condition under which Social Security Numbers may be required as a condition for travel," said McDonald. "The victory's definitely not yet won. During these lull periods there's an opportunity for proponents of these issues to let opposition die down and all of a sudden, pop, it goes through without anyone even aware of it.
"I don't see how the Department of Transportation could go forth with implementing the regulation with all that strong opposition to it. Even five states wrote letters of strong opposition to requiring Social Security numbers," said McDonald.
Although he was in favor of the moratorium, McDonald expressed concerns about the difficulty in getting complete repeal of the law. He said many activists may now regard the issue as being resolved, when the toughest part of the battle is still ahead.
"For a year we're safe," said Lisa Dean of the Coalition for Constitutional Liberties, another organization that has been actively campaigning against the provisions of Section 656 (b). She agreed that the toughest part of her organization's challenge is in front of her.
Now that a moratorium is in place for a year, Dean expects repeal efforts will also include finding alternative ways to resolve the concerns about illegal immigrants, although no recommendations are in place as yet.