Topic: Trade and Immigration

Questions for Heritage: REAL ID

The Heritage Foundation’s “The Foundry” blog has a post up called “Questions for Secretary Napolitano: Real ID.”

Honest advocates on two sides of an issue can come to almost perfectly opposite views, and this provides an example, because I find the post confused, wrong, or misleading in nearly every respect.

Let’s give it a brief fisking. Below, the language from the post is in italics, and my comments are in roman text:

Does the Obama Administration support the implementation of the Real ID Act?

(Hope not … .)

Congress has passed two bills that set Real ID standards for driver’s licenses in all U.S. jurisdictions.

REAL ID was a federal law that Congress passed in haste as an attachment to a military spending bill in early 2005. To me, “REAL ID standards” are the standards in the REAL ID Act. I’m not sure what other bill the post refers to.

Given the legitimate fear of REAL ID creating a federal national ID database, section 547 of the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009 barred the creation of a new federal database or federal access to state databases with the funds in that bill. (Thus, these things will be done with other funds later.)

The Court Security Improvement Act allowed federal judges and Supreme Court Justices to withhold their addresses from the REAL ID database system, evidently because the courts don’t believe the databases would be secure.

And in the last Congress, bills were introduced to repeal REAL ID in both the House and Senate. Congress has been backing away from REAL ID since it was rammed through, with Senators like Joe Lieberman (I-CT) calling REAL ID unworkable.

It’s unclear what the import of the sentence is, but if it’s trying to convey that there is a settled consensus around the REAL ID law, that is not supported by its treatment in Congress.

The Real ID legislation does not create a federal identification card, but it does set minimum security standards for driver’s licenses.

This sentence is correct, but deceptive.

REAL ID sets federal standards for state identification cards and drivers’ licenses, refusing them federal acceptance if they don’t meet these standards. Among those standards is uniformity in the data elements and a nationally standardized machine readable technology. Interoperable databases and easily scanned cards mean that state-issued cards would be the functional equivalent of a federally issued card.

People won’t be fooled if their national ID cards have the flags of their home states on them. When I testified to the Michigan legislature in 2007, I parodied the argument that a state-issued card is not a national ID card: “My car didn’t hit you — the bumper did!”

All states have either agreed to comply with these standards or have applied for an extension of the deadline.

It’s true that all states have either moved toward complying or not, but that’s not very informative. What matters is that a dozen states have passed legislation barring their own participation in the national ID plan. A couple of states received deadline extensions from the Department of Homeland Security despite refusing to ask for them. Things are not going well for REAL ID.

Secure identification cards will make fraudulent documents more difficult to obtain and will also simplify employers’ efforts to check documents when verifying employer eligibility.

It’s true that REAL ID would make it a little bit harder to get - or actually to use - fraudulent documents, because it would add some very expensive checks into the processes states use when they issue cards.

It’s not secure identification cards that make fraudulent documents harder to obtain - the author of this post has the security problems jumbled. But, worse, he or she excludes mentioning that a national ID makes it more valuable to use fraudulent documents. When a thing is made harder to do, but proportionally more valuable to do, you’ll see more of it. REAL ID is not a recipe for a secure identity system; it’s a recipe for a more expensive and invasive, but less secure identity system.

Speaking of invasive, this sentence is a confession that REAL ID is meant to facilitate background checks on American workers before they can work. This is a process I wrote about in a paper subtitled “Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.” The dream of easy federal background checks on all American workers will never materialize, and we wouldn’t want that power in the hands of the federal government even if we could have it.

Real ID is a sensible protection against identify fraud.

The Department of Homeland Security’s own economic analysis of REAL ID noted that only 28% of all reported incidents of identity theft in 2005 required the presentation of an identification document like a driver’s license. And it said REAL ID would reduce those frauds “only to the extent that the [REAL ID] rulemaking leads to incidental and required use of REAL ID documents in everyday transactions, which is an impact that also depends on decisions made by State and local governments and the private sector.”

Translation: REAL ID would have a small, but speculative effect on identity fraud.

Congress is set to introduce legislation next week that could largely repeal the Real ID.

The bill I’ve seen is structured just like REAL ID was, and it requires states to create a national ID just like REAL ID did. REAL ID is dying, but the bill would revive REAL ID, trying to give it a different name.

Some groups oppose this version of REAL ID because it takes longer to drive all Americans into a national ID system and frustrates their plans to do background checks on all American workers. But it’s still the REAL ID Act’s basic plan for a national ID.

The Administration should put pressure on Congress to ensure that this legislation does not effectively eliminate the Real ID standards.

Why the administration would pressure Congress to maintain the national ID law in place - by any name - is beyond me. REAL ID is unworkable, unwanted, and unfixable.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano signed legislation as Arizona’s governor to reject the REAL ID Act. Her predecessor at DHS, Michael Chertoff, talked tough about implementing the law but came up just shy of lighting the paper bag in which he left it on Napolitano’s doorstep.

The REAL ID revival bill that is being so widely discussed is likely to be both the national ID plan that so many states have already rejected and deeply unsatisfying to the anti-immigrant crowd. Congress rarely fails to grasp a lose-lose opportunity like this, so I expect it will be introduced and to see it’s sponsors award themselves a great deal of self-congratulations for their courageous work. You can expect that to receive a fisking here too.

One Step Closer to Gambling Online?

Following on from the mildly good news of a few weeks ago, Barney Frank (D, MA) has announced that he will introduce a bill tomorrow to roll back current restrictions on gambling online (the restrictions are made operative by bans on U.S. banks from processing transactions to and from gambling websites).  Although the details of the bill are yet to be released, this here article contains some good analysis.

Obama ‘Offshore’ Tax Plan Will Cost U.S. Companies Business and Jobs

The Obama administration is ready to follow through on campaign promises to crack down on U.S. companies that “ship jobs overseas.” The administration announced this weekend that it would seek to raise taxes on the so-called active earnings of U.S.-owned affiliates abroad. According to a front-page story in this morning’s Wall Street Journal:

Under current law, U.S. companies can defer taxes indefinitely on the many of the profits they say they have earned overseas until they “repatriate” that money back to the U.S. The administration seeks to sharply limit the tax deductions that companies taking advantage of deferral can take.

Of course, there is a perfectly good reason why we don’t tax what U.S. companies earn and keep abroad: those companies are already paying taxes in the countries where their affiliates are located, and at the same rates that apply to multinationals from other countries competing in the same markets.

As I pointed out in a Cato Free Trade Bulletin in January, locating affiliates in foreign markets is now the chief way that U.S. companies reach new customers outside the United States. If we sock them with the relatively high U.S. corporate rate, U.S. companies will be less able to compete against German and Japanese multinationals in the same markets who need only pay the (almost always) lower corporate rate assessed by the host country. And as I noted in January, any jobs created at affiliates abroad tend to promote more employment at the parent company back in the United States.

This demagogic grab for more revenue will only cripple the ability of U.S. companies to expand their sales in global markets, putting in jeopardy the U.S.-based jobs that support their foreign affiliates.

Chrysler: Everybody Relax, This Is Exactly What Should Have Happened

the-new-chryslerA small group of Chrysler debt holders rejected the Obama administration’s restructuring plan last night, leaving Chapter 11 bankruptcy as the most salient option for the company.

The Obama administration accused the investors who walked away of “failure to act…in the national interest.” But it’s not difficult to understand why these secured creditors rejected the government’s offer of essentially 29 cents on their investment dollar. If that is how the Obama administration treats capital markets, how exactly do they expect to spur private investment in American companies, as the White House claims it wants to do?

Bankruptcy reorganization will probably yield a better deal for investors than the government’s plan. It also will imbue the process with more financial sanity than anything the Obama administration cooked up. For instance: the historically overindulged United Auto Workers might be forced to make more “sacrifices” than being handed a 55 percent stake in the company—essentially what the core of the administration’s plan would have accomplished—or reducing their CBA-mandated breaks from 16 minutes to 13 minutes.

Bankruptcy has been the best option all along. That was clear the moment it was determined that new private capital or adequate sales revenues would not be available to fund operations. But once the Bush administration circumvented Congress to throw Chrysler (and GM) a lifeline, and the Obama administration followed suit with implicit backing, uncertainty prevailed and the problem persisted. The bankruptcy process will produce a less politically driven solution.

How Protectionism Crashed the World Economy…and How to Stop It This Time Around

A coalition of more than 70 groups around the world, from Canada to Brazil to Kyrgyzstan to Germany to China to Japan to Kenya, has joined together to stop the dangerous stirrings of protectionism.  The FreedomToTrade.org coalition (coordinated internationally by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and the International Policy Network) has circulated a petition (signed by over 1,000 economists and thousands of others) and is now producing documentaries to alert the public to the dangers posed by protectionism.  This one is on the role the Smoot-Hawley Tariff played in turning a serious recession into the Great Depression.

The mini-documentary is also being made available in 12 other languages.  The Spanish version will be available on Cato’s Spanish-language project, ElCato.org. Others are available on YouTube.

This information is important and needs to be widely shared.  Pass it on…

The Global Economy Is Not Immune to Swine Flu

World governments should be careful not to play politics with the Mexican swine flu outbreak. The health consequences should of course be rigorously addressed—but without adding economic consequences, which is what several countries appear poised to do.

Public health scares have a history of seeping into trade policy without anything resembling sufficient consideration of the evidence. Governments in Russia and East Asia are already banning pork exports from Mexico, even though there is zero evidence that they pose a health hazard. It hearkens back to unfounded bans of U.S. beef in recent years by the European Union and South Korea.

If the U.S. government jumps on board, U.S. exports could be targeted for retaliatory trade actions. One quarter of U.S. pork production is exported, as well as billions of dollars of our soybeans used as feed by foreign hog farmers.

Exploiting this crisis could turn what is so far a manageable health problem into an unnecessary trade and diplomatic conflict. Obviously the global economy does not need the extra strain.

New Study: How President Obama Can Help Restore the Pro-Trade Consensus

Since taking office, President Obama seems to have discovered that anti-trade rhetoric, while popular on the campaign trail, isn’t so useful to a sitting president whose policies will have lasting consequences, says trade analyst Daniel J. Ikenson in a new Cato study.

In “Audaciously Hopeful: How President Obama Can Help Restore the Pro-Trade Consensus,” Ikenson and international trade attorney Scott Lincicome argue that the time has come “to arrest and reverse America’s misguided and metastasizing aversion to trade,” which has “been shaped overwhelmingly by relentless political rhetoric.”

The authors’ suggestions for President Obama include:

  • Establish a “trade transparency initiative,” with the goal of publishing independent findings about the effects of trade and trade barriers on the U.S. economy, without political interference.
  • Reinforce for Congress the fact that a unilateralist trade policy undermines multilateral foreign policy, as well as President Obama’s personal efforts toward repairing America’s damaged image abroad.
  • Craft a pragmatic, principled approach to enforcement of standing trade agreements.
  • Adopt a China policy of carrots and sticks, including a continued push for China to open more of its markets while resorting to the WTO dispute settlement system only when the situation and facts support doing so.
  • Craft a proactive agenda now for implementation when trade consensus re-emerges.

See more Cato research on trade policy.