Judd Gregg’s GoodbyeBy Tobin Harshaw
Among the reasons Sen. Judd Gregg gave for bailing out on the Commerce secretaryship was his “his concern with the Obama administration’s decision to have the next Census director report to senior White House staffers as well as the commerce secretary.”
The Wall Street Journal’s John Fund summarized the right’s worries about the Census switch the other day:
President Obama said in his inaugural address that he planned to “restore science to its rightful place” in government. That’s a worthy goal. But statisticians at the Commerce Department didn’t think it would mean having the director of next year’s Census report directly to the White House rather than to the Commerce secretary, as is customary. “There’s only one reason to have that high level of White House involvement,” a career professional at the Census Bureau tells me. “And it’s called politics, not science.”
The decision was made last week after California Rep. Barbara Lee, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Hispanic groups complained to the White House that Judd Gregg, the Republican senator from New Hampshire slated to head Commerce, couldn’t be trusted to conduct a complete Census. The National Association of Latino Officials said it had “serious questions about his willingness to ensure that the 2010 Census produces the most accurate possible count.”
Anything that threatens the integrity of the Census has profound implications. Not only is it the basis for congressional redistricting, it provides the raw data by which government spending is allocated on everything from roads to schools. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also uses the Census to prepare the economic data that so much of business relies upon. “If the original numbers aren’t as hard as possible, the uses they’re put to get fuzzier and fuzzier,” says Bruce Chapman, who was director of the Census in the 1980s.
Mr. Chapman worries about a revival of the effort led by minority groups after the 2000 Census to adjust the totals for states and cities using statistical sampling and computer models. In 1999, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Department of Commerce v. U.S. House that sampling could not be used to reapportion congressional seats. But it left open the possibility that sampling could be used to redraw political boundaries within the states.
While Gregg later downplayed the significance of the Census issue, Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard thinks it was the clincher:
The inclusion of the census among the “irresolvable conflicts” Gregg had with the administration is odd. The stimulus has already gone through, and the shape it would take was fairly clear when Gregg first put his hat in the ring. The Obama administration’s attempts to hijack the census, however, only became apparent in the last week. Republicans were determined to make an issue out of this at the confirmation hearings, and Gregg would have been essentially neutered if he’d allowed the White House to take the census away from the Commerce Department.
Neither does the failure of another nominee help restore the image of competence to an Obama team that just a few weeks ago was considered a well-oiled machine and now sees almost daily unforced errors. It’s possible to blame Gregg for this — that he should have seen these kind of issues coming — but again, the census issue was not foreseeable, and was perhaps both irresolvable and unacceptable to Gregg. The inclusion of the census in the statement ought to bring increased scrutiny to the Obama administration’s attempts to what seems to the untrained eye like a clear attempt to subvert the law governing its administration.
But Andrew Sullivan isn’t buying it: “This is not a real issue. It’s an issue driven by the paranoid GOP base. The census has not been removed from the Commerce Department’s purview … and past censuses have long been conducted with coordination from the White House staff … This issue was championed by Republicans for the usual ‘the-darkies-are-taking-over!’ reasons. And Gregg’s broad support for the kind of stimulus bill Obama has just got through the conference is a matter of public record. So the real reason for Gregg’s departure is that he simply couldn’t handle the backlash from his own party for providing bipartisan cover for Obamanomics. I guess they believe that assaulting the new president as he tries to reach out is their ticket for future relevance. Hello to all this …”