Business groups from both sides of the border descended on Congress on Monday to lobby against the Bush administration's plan to require a passportlike document to cross the Canadian border by 2008.
But no viable alternatives surfaced to the $97 passport or the $50 wallet-sized PASS card, proposed last month by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff as a compromise.
Democratic members of Congress are backing a so-called, undefined "day pass." The business coalition instead wants Congress to consider using a federally sanctioned driver's license.
The deadline for deciding on the type of document Americans will need is about six months away.
Luke Rich, senior consultant to Buffalo Niagara Partnership, looks at it another way.
"This process is just beginning," Rich said. "This won't become effective for almost two years. And I think there are doubts the government can get this done in that time. I think the chances are good they will need an extension."
Rich said a U.S-sponsored binational coalition is asking that an "enhanced driver's license" issued under the Real ID law passed last year be considered valid ID for border crossings.
The new law bars federal agencies from accepting driver's licenses or identification cards unless such documents are determined by the federal government to meet minimum security requirements, including the incorporation of specified data, a common machine-readable technology and certain antifraud security features.
In the House, the bill passed along party lines, with Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, voting for it, and Democrats Brian M. Higgins of Buffalo and Louise M. Slaughter of Fairport, against it.
Many Democrats opposed it on grounds it amounts to a national ID card and an infringement on civil liberties.
Slaughter said she sent a bipartisan letter to the Department of Homeland Security two weeks ago "asking for clarification on the possibility of a one-day pass."
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., noted that during a congressional hearing last month, Jim Williams, an aide to Chertoff discussed a possible "day pass" for individuals to use to enter and leave Canada quickly.
Schumer said the discussion about a day pass shows the administration is "beginning to understand the Canadian side of the border and how it's part of our economy." But neither Slaughter nor Schumer described what the day pass would be.
Jarrod Agen, a spokesman for Chertoff, said Monday that so far the day pass idea is just a concept.
Asked if there are any details within the Homeland Security Department outlining what a day pass would be, Agen replied: "None."