The days of being able to use your driver's license and a birth certificate to cross into America by land or sea will officially end on June 1. No whining this time! Congress already pushed back the deadline for you back in 2006. Now it's going to happen. They mean it this time.
From June on, the choice will be a) carry a passport or b) don't go. The smart ones (this describes you, right?) will brave the bureaucracy and get their passports right away before the system gets jammed with applicants. The first quarter of every year is always the smoothest time to get or renew a passport with a minimum of grief, with the average application taking only a couple of weeks. Don't wait longer than March, though, because by the spring, the paperwork logjam is sure to be extreme considering the twin demands of summer travel prep and the frenzied run-up to comply with the long-delayed rule.
Why the requirement? Lots of people think that the government just wants to make it easier to spy on our movements. I don't know if I agree with that (or if I did, should I say so in print?), but there is no doubt that security is driving the mandate. There are currently some 7,000 types of birth certificates in circulation right now, so presenting one of them, plus a passport, currently clearly presents some validation issues for border agents.