Amidst the high-profile fight over the stimulus plan and the embarrassing tumult over the batch of Obama administration appointees with tax cheating problems there hasn’t been much attention paid to the most naked power grab yet attempted by the Obama administration: the effort to wrest oversight of the federal census from professionals in the Commerce Department.
As required by the Constitution, every ten years the federal government undertakes a massive effort to count and gather information about Americans. The information impacts hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions about federal funding and policy. But most importantly, it will be the basis for the redistricting which determines Congressional representation.
The White House has proposed that the director of the Census, a Commerce Department employee, report to the White House. The White House contends this is no big deal. Nevertheless, the move followed a wave of protest from liberal civil rights groups concerned that they might not succeed in maximizing the count of minority voters if the census remained under the auspices of Republican Judd Gregg, the Commerce secretary nominee.
Republican leaders in Congress are waking up to the implications of the White House’s decision and beginning to sound the alarm. Two Republican congressmen have sent a letter to the White House protesting the move. The congressmen cited Title 13 of the U.S. Code, requiring that the Census Bureau be administered “within, and under the jurisdiction of, the Department of Commerce.” They contend that “the Executive Branch is limited to providing support for the Bureau in the form of information and resources.”
On Sunday Republicans fanned out on TV to try to raise public awareness of the issue. Minority Leader John Boehner on Fox News Sunday explained:
It just tells me that the census, the counting of the population of the United States is going to be politicized. This is very simple, Chris, the Constitution says that every ten years there will be a count of all persons who live in the United States. That means that we need to have an actual count. And why this has to be moved from the Commerce Department over to the chief of staff’s office, I would think he’d have better things to do, than to coordinate the census, but apparently they have ideas about what they might want to do to politicize the counting of our population next year.
Sen. John Cornyn echoed a similar sentiment during his exchange with Chris Wallace:
WALLACE: Senator Cornyn, we now learn that the Obama administration is going to have the director of the Census Bureau report not only to the commerce secretary but also to the White House. What’s wrong with that?
CORNYN: Well, ordinarily, this has been something that the commerce secretary has done, and I think it ought to be done on a competent, as much as possible, nonpartisan basis. And to shift it to the White House to me just politicizes the census, which is not something we should be doing.
WALLACE: And what’s the danger, briefly, of politicizing the census?
CORNYN: Well, because, of course, that determines who gets what congressional districts. States like Texas were going to get probably at least three new congressional districts based on the reapportionment — and then, of course, in drawing those lines, redistricting within states. It’s all based on those census figures. So if you cook the figures up front, I think it distorts that process going forward and undermines the concept of one person, one vote.