This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Burton (R-IN) to H.R. 2847, which provided fiscal year 2010 funding for the Departments of Commerce. The amendment prohibited any funds in the bill from being used to relocate the Office of the Census or employees from the Department of Commerce to the jurisdiction of the Executive Office of the President.
There had been significant concern expressed, especially by Republicans, that the Obama Administration was intending to move control of the 2010 census from the Department of Commerce to the White House. In response, the administration formally announced that the control of the census would remain in the Commerce Department.
Rep. Burton, arguing in support of his amendment, first noted that “(T)he Constitution stipulates that Congress shall direct how the census is to be conducted and Congress delegated this responsibility to the Bureau of the Census (in the Commerce Department), not the Office of the White House Chief of Staff.” He argued that the census “should remain independent of politics. It should not be directed by political operatives working out of the White House . . . The Census Bureau is staffed by experienced and talented professionals who are leaders in the field of statistics. In order to produce a fair, accurate and trustworthy count during the 2010 census, the Census Bureau needs to remain an agency free from political or partisan interference.”
Burton acknowledged that the administration has said that the census will be controlled by the Commerce Department, but “my concern is that there could be a change of attitude by some in the White House (and) . . . unless we pass this amendment, there is nothing to prevent the White House from reversing itself once more, and that concerns me.”
Rep. Mollohan (D-WV), who was managing H.R. 2847 for the Democrats, first said he was “sympathetic” to Burton’s concerns, but that he did not share them. Mollohan opposed the amendment, but also said his remarks in opposition were “more in the way of assuring (Rep. Burton) that we are on top of this, and we are looking at it.”
Mollohan did not support the amendment because he did not want to acknowledge, as he said, that there had been any “inappropriate involvement by the White House” in the development of census procedures. However, a significant number of Democrats did support the amendment, since they approved of its stated purpose of insuring that there would not be any outside interference in the conduct of the census.
The amendment passed by a vote of 262-162. One hundred and seventy-three Republicans and eighty-nine Democrats voted “aye”. All one hundred and sixty-two “nay” votes were cast by Democrats, including a majority of the most progressive Members. As a result, language was added to the 2010 Department of Commerce funding bill prohibiting any funds in it to be used to relocate census personnel to the President’s Office.