Census Already Drawing Knives

Posted February 11, 2009 at 6:28pm

House Democrats moved ahead with plans for beefing up oversight of the 2010 Census even as Republicans cried foul over the White House’s decision to take over its administration from the Department of Commerce.

The census is always a critical issue to Members when it comes to federal funding formulas and reapportionment of Congressional seats between states. While the census often invites partisan fights, the upcoming effort could be even more political since President Barack Obama has said that the White House will oversee it. Obama made the decision shortly after nominating Republican Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.) as his Commerce secretary.

“We look forward to being very, very involved and aggressive in making sure that every vote is counted,” House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) said.

Towns said Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), who has been tapped to head up the effort for House Democrats, would receive additional staff to deal with the 2010 effort.

While he had not yet discussed the matter with Democratic leadership, Towns was confident the census would stay within his committee’s jurisdiction.

“I would yell and scream like a greased pig” if anyone tried to take the issue out of my purview, Towns vowed.

While Democrats have lauded Obama’s decision to manage the program under the White House as a smart way to ensure an efficient count with ample resources, Republicans have condemned it. GOP lawmakers already are complaining that Democrats will attempt to use the census as a political tool to gain unfair electoral advantages.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the Oversight ranking member, said the GOP’s specific concern is that Democrats might try and use statistical estimates in the census rather than counting every person individually. He threatened lawsuits if Democrats try to do so.

“As long as it’s constitutional and not a guesstimate, we’re going to be very supportive,” Issa said.

But Issa warned that money should not flow to districts based simply on estimates, which may or may not be accurate.

“If we can’t get justice in the Congress, we’ll get it in the courts,” Issa argued.

Issa also said that the White House’s seizing of the 2010 Census oversight violated the Constitution, which leaves Congress as the watchdog. He added that the Constitution is clear on the issue and is “not open to sleight of hand.”

In order to further stress their concerns, Republicans sent a letter to Obama on Wednesday to ask him to reconsider moving the Census Bureau. They also plan to hold a press conference today.

“We are writing to register our grave concerns about this change, which would result in the unprecedented politicization of the Census and open the door to massive waste and abuse in the expenditure of taxpayer funds, billions of which are distributed on the basis of Census data,” the letter said. “We respectfully request that you reconsider and reverse this controversial and harmful course of action.”

Republicans argued that there was no “legitimate historical precedent” for moving the otherwise nonpartisan bureau under the control of the White House “let alone the former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.”

“Doing so will, in fact, greatly undermine the goal of a fair and accurate Census count,” the GOP letter said.

House Democrats put $1 billion for the census into the stimulus package, and the money was expected to make it into the final conference committee report that’s expected to clear both chambers later this week.