House GOP crying foul over Census

By Max Cacas

In the past week, the Census has become a flashpoint between the Obama Administration and House Republicans. They are upset by reports that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel is planning to take a more hands-on-approach to the day-to-day management of the upcoming 2010 Census.

Indiana Republican Mike Pence, the head of the House Republican Conference Committee, says he’s not happy at all that Rahm Emmanuel, the former head of the Democratic Conference Committee and now White House Chief of Staff, is planning to directly oversee the census.

“Commanding the director of the Census to report directly to the White House is a naked political power grab, and transparently partisan.”

Pence was one of nearly a dozen House Republicans who held a press conference at the Capitol yesterday to call attention to what they consider a big problem.

House Minority Leader John Boehner from Ohio told reporters at the Capitol yesterday, “This unprecedented move by the President will undermine the effort for a fair and accurate census count.”

To be clear, the White House has since modified its stand to say only that the Chief of Staff will work closely with the Census Bureau director, and that the Commerce Secretary will continue to oversee the Census.

Nonetheless, Republicans are threatening to go to court over the matter and Georgia Republican Lynn Westmoreland told reporters the GOP is putting him, and some of the caucus’ top lawmakers, on a task force to closely monitor the census.

“What they’ve asked us to do is to make sure this is not a political counting, that its an accurate counting that the people deserve.”

One of the most outspoken lawmakers on this topic has been California Republican Darrell Issa, the ranking minority member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He began speaking out on the plan to shift management of the Census as recently as a week and a half ago, when word of the plan first emerged.

During oversight hearings last year, Issa was one of the fiercest critics of the Commerce Department under the Bush Administration over endless procurement and operational problems with the planned modernization of the Census, a project that will only be partially complete by the time the 2010 count is underway next year.

I asked Issa to put White House efforts to more closely manage the census in the context of the last eight years.

First of all, the Chief of Staff is the hack at the gate at the White House. He’s not a manager of anything. Rahm Emmanuel is a political animal who decides who gets time with the President for political reasons. Rahm Emmanuel does not have a record of running businesses or knowing how to manage things. I agree with you, our committee held numerous hearings on the failures of the procurement process, and the setting of standards for these new devices. As a result, we will be doing a very conventional count almost identical to what we did ten years ago. That count will be more expensive. To the extent that our committee or the President wants to be more involved in funding, and the appointment of a sound manager to make sure there’s the maximum efficiency of these thousands of people to be hired for this historical event, we agree with that, we totally agree with that.

Earlier this week, we spoke by phone with Missouri Democrat William Lacy Clay, chairman of the House Census Suibcommittee, who confirmed that both the President and Chief of Staff briefed him personally about the Census plan at the Democratic retreat in Williamsburg two weekends ago. Following yesterday’s GOP news conference, I asked Chairman Clay if he had talked to Congressman Issa about his concerns.

My door is always open, they can always talk to me. So far, he has not. I don’t understand what the fear is to have a relationship with the West Wing of the White House, I don’t get what the fear is. I’ve heard people say he (Emmanuel) will politicize the process, well, we’re all politicians up here, so we all could be politicizing the process!

Clay got a vote of confidence from his boss, New York Democrat Edolphus Towns, the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

He’s assured me he’s going to aggressively pursue it, and I feel confident that he will. I think we’ll be just fine. I understand Congressman Issa’s concerns, but we want to make certain everybody is counted, and so he can be assured we’re going to be on top of that.

New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney, also a member of the House Census Subcommittee who has authored a bill to take the Census Bureau out of Commerce and make it an independent agency, had this to say about Republican concerns over the White House plan:

It’s absolutely ridiculous. A White House spokesperson made it absolutely clear that the Census will be run out of the Commerce Department, and its much ado about nothing. They are saying something that is absolutely not true.

The issue of White House control over the census was expected to be one of the main topics at New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg’s confirmation hearing to be the next Commerce Secretary, but with his surprise withdrawl yesterday, resolution of that question will likely be placed on the backburner until the confirmation hearing for his replacement.

(Copyright 2009 by All Rights Reserved.)