GOP leaders criticize White House role in census
WASHINGTON Partisan bickering is complicating next year’s high-stakes census count of the nation’s population.House GOP leaders on Thursday criticized plans for increased White House involvement in next year’s count, challenging the president to find a new nominee for commerce secretary if he has doubts about Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.”If President Obama doesn’t trust Sen. Gregg to oversee a fair and accurate census, he should withdraw the nomination,” said GOP conference chairman Mike Pence, R-Ind.The GOP challenge could put fresh pressure on the Obama administration, which has been seeking middle ground after nominating Gregg as commerce secretary earlier this month.The Congressional Black Caucus and a group representing Latino elected officials have raised questions about Gregg, noting that as chairman of the Senate panel overseeing the Census Bureau budget he frequently sought to cut funding that they believe led to an undercount of minorities.To allay concerns over Gregg, the White House initially indicated that it might take greater control over the Census Bureau. But amid GOP criticism it has since clarified that the White House will “work closely with the census director,” and that the Census Bureau would not be removed from the Commerce Department.”The president recognizes the importance of ensuring that the Census Bureau conducts a complete and accurate count through a process that is free from politicization, and he looks forward to working with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and Secretary-designate Gregg to achieve that goal,” White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said.Reps. Ed Towns, D-N.Y., and William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., who oversee the Census Bureau on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said they were comfortable with the White House response since the Commerce Department will retain authority.They urged the Obama administration to act quickly in nominating a Census Bureau director who can get to work, noting that the Government Accountability Office has said the 2010 Census is in “serious trouble” because the bureau still doesn’t know if its operations will be fully in place come next year.”We are deeply concerned that the Census Bureau will not be able to complete its constitutionally mandated responsibility to count U.S. residents without immediate and sustained attention from the administration,” the lawmakers said. “And with the clock ticking we are less than 11 months away from launching the 2010 Census the Census Bureau has little time to improve its capabilities.”The census debate has high stakes since the decennial figures are used to determine House reapportionment and redistricting, as well as allocations of billions of dollars in government funding for schools, roads, hospitals and other vital programs.House Republicans said they remain concerned about “backroom deals” at the White House that are guided by chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, the former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. They threatened to file a lawsuit if the White House was overly active in deciding how the 2010 Census is handled.House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he is creating a census task force composed of GOP lawmakers from the Judiciary, House Administration and Oversight & Government Reform committees to keep watch.The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials on Thursday said they welcomed the new GOP task force but said they remained concerned about Gregg’s views.”Achieving a census that counts all Americans will not be possible without the necessary funding, the right personnel and a secretary of commerce who shares that vision,” the group said.