Hastert to Make Driver's License Bill Top Priority

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R.-Ill.) has promised disgruntled conservatives that the House’s top priority in the 109th Congress is passing legislation that bars illegal aliens from obtaining driver’s licenses, language the Senate stripped from the just-passed intelligence bill.

House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis.), a strong proponent of the driver’s license provision, secured Hastert’s assurance once House leaders agreed to vote on the intelligence bill last week. Sensenbrenner helped thwart a November 20 vote on the legislation because the provision was removed.

Hastert’s spokesman, John Feehery, said the speaker wouldn’t hesitate about attaching the language to an Iraq supplemental bill, which President Bush is expected to request early next year. “We’re going to do everything we can to get it on there,” Feehery told HUMAN EVENTS.

But getting the Senate to comply with the driver’s license provision is expected to be difficult, particularly because Senators Susan Collins (R.-Maine) and Joe Lieberman (D.-Conn.) fought its inclusion in the intelligence bill. Collins ducked a question last week from HUMAN EVENTS about Sensenbrenner’s proposal, claiming she hadn’t had time to review it (see page 3).

President Bush has also yet to signal where he stands on the driver’s license proposal. In response to a question from HUMAN EVENTS’ John Gizzi last week, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: “In terms of driver’s license, the President stated that we need to consult closely with states about the standards that we’re talking about setting.”

Sensenbrenner said the White House was trying to work out disputes within the administration before agreeing to the language. He rejected the idea that Bush might want the provision attached to his controversial “guest-worker” proposal for illegal aliens.

Although Sensenbrenner said he would like a House floor vote on his proposal–which also includes asylum reform and completion of a fence on the Mexican border in the San Diego area–he didn’t rule out its inclusion in the Iraq funding request. Tying the language to that bill would make it more difficult for the Senate to reject it. Sensenbrenner said, “We will have this all keyed up so when the must-pass bill train leaves the station, this will be on it.”

House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R.-Va.) pledged his support for Sensenbrenner’s proposal, as did Rep. Steve King (R.-Iowa), who voted against the intelligence bill because it failed to include the immigration reforms. King said he would also push for the expedited removal of illegal aliens and the ability to detain those who pose a danger.

Eleven states currently issue driver’s licenses to people without lawful presence in the United States. “The driver’s license has become a de facto identification card and that’s all it takes to get on an airplane or buy a gun,” King told HUMAN EVENTS.