About the Census, accountability, and oversight

Byron York, now writing for the DC Examiner, has an excellent piece published about the troubling nature of the Obama administration’s decision to essentially seize control of the Census from the Commerce Dept, which is one of the reasons Sen. Gregg gave for withdrawing his nomination:

Rep. Darrell Issa is not working from a position of strength. As the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa wants to exercise some, well, oversight when it comes to the Obama administration’s controversial decision to transfer control of the Census Bureau from professionals at the Commerce Department to political aides in the White House. But as a member of the minority party on Capitol Hill, Issa doesn’t have the power to compel the administration to do anything.

So this week Issa wrote President Obama a tough-sounding letter, saying that placing the Census Bureau in the hands of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel — the hard-edged political operative who directed the Democrats’ successful 2006 campaign to win the House — is “a shamefully transparent attempt by your administration to politicize the Census Bureau and manipulate the 2010 Census.”
At that point, a powerful member of Congress might have made a demand, or issued a threat. Instead, Issa signed off by saying to Obama, “We respectfully request that you not follow through” on the Census Bureau change.

Good luck with that.

In the last couple of years, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee was a bulldog at the Bush administration’s heels. Then-chairman Henry Waxman conducted investigation after investigation, on topics from the Justice Department to global warming. Waxman was particularly fond of probing the Bush’s administration’s alleged politicization of just about every aspect of the federal government.

Now things are different. With a Democrat in the White House and Democrats running Capitol Hill, that old Waxman toughness is a thing of the past. Waxman himself has decamped for a bigger job chairing the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He’s been replaced as chairman by the lower-key Rep. Edolphus Towns, who doesn’t have the reputation of being a ferocious watchdog.

Some may suggest that this is a small, irrelevant issue in the scheme of things. It is not. As John Fund explained last week:

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.”

A nything 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.

Make sure to read both articles in full.

Update: Here’s an interesting side item, from last week:

The Capitol Hill publication Congressional Quarterly yesterday reported that the White House, responding to minority groups’ concerns about Gregg’s commitment to funding the census, has decided to have the director of the Census Bureau report directly to the White House.

No such plans were in place when Richardson was the nominee.

Obama contradicted by business CEO/Chair at his own event re: the stimulus bill

As usual, Jake Tapper is doing the work most MSM journalists will not (video is also at that link, or click here):

EAST PEORIA, ILL. — President Obama today repeated the claim we asked about yesterday at the press briefing that Jim Owens, the CEO of Caterpillar, Inc., “said that if Congress passes our plan, this company will be able to rehire some of the folks who were just laid off.”

Caterpillar announced 22,000 layoffs last month.

But after the president left the event, Owens said the exact opposite

Asked if the stimulus package would be able to stop the 22,000 layoffs or not, Owens said, “I think realistically no. The truth is we’re going to have more layoffs before we start hiring again”

“It is going to take some time before that stimulus bill” means re-hiring, he said.

Hey – what’s a little exaggeration amongst a like-minded group of people, eh?

I know – it’s a classic tactic President Obama used all during the campaign, making big promises that in reality were not as cut and dry as he made them out to be, but that doesn’t mean that listening to them has gotten any easier, especially considering the bloated stimulus bill he’s pushing.

And speaking of, have you taken a look at it yet? Malkin’s got the highlights and lowlights here.

Related, via The Sundries Shack: Pray Your Members of Congress Took Speed Reading Lessons

Sen. Gregg withdraws Commerce nomination – WH “blindsided”

Huge story:

New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg has abruptly withdrawn as President Barack Obama’s nominee to run the Commerce Department, another blow to an administration trying to build a bipartisan cabinet.

The surprising turn of events “blind sided” at least one Obama aide who spoke to Politico, and another senior White House official said he was “totally caught off guard” by the news.

“I couldn’t be Judd Gregg and serve in the Cabinet. I should have faced up to the reality of that earlier,” Gregg said. “I’ve been my own person and I began to wonder if I could be an effective team player. The president deserves someone who can block for his policies. As a practical matter I can contribute to his agenda better—where we agree—as a senator and I hope to do that.”

“The fault lies with me,” Gregg said in an interview with Politico, refusing to discuss any conversations he has had with Obama himself. Asked if he felt the decision would be an embarrassment for the president, Gregg said, “I may have embarrassed myself but hopefully not him.”

In a separate statement, Gregg cited his problems with the economic stimulus bill, as well as partisan disagreements over how to run the Census as reasons for pulling his nomination. He was quick to point out that there was nothing in the vetting process that made him yank his own nomination – steering clear of the controversies that killed the Health and Human Services nominee Tom Daschle and chief performance officer nominee Nancy Kileffer, who both withdrew after tax problems.

Ultimately, Gregg said he and Obama “are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.”

Sounds like a principled move we can all appreciate.

Ed Morrissey responds:

Barack Obama will take another big hit to his transition, but the man who really deserves the obloquy this time is Rahm Emanuel. The census ploy was a transparent attempt to hijack the data for political purposes, and pulling that stunt after Gregg’s appointment made Gregg look like a political eunuch. It was classic overreach, and it’s classic Emanuel.

Now he’s embarrassed himself, made his boss look impotent, and managed at the same time to damage Obama’s most critical piece of domestic policy legislation. If Gregg hits the media circuit to criticize Porkulus, his credibility as an Obama appointee will create a lot of heat on other Republicans and even a few Democrats to stop the runaway train of this bill and force it back into debate.

Hoping, praying …