This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Burton (R-IN) to H.R. 2847, the fiscal year 2010 appropriations for the Departments of Commerce and Justice and for federal science and other programs. The amendment would prohibit the use of funds 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. This was reportedly one of the reasons that Sen. Gregg (R-NH) had decided not to join the Obama Administration as Secretary of Commerce. Subsequent to Gregg’s decision, the administration announced that control of the census would remain within the Commerce Department.
The amendment had previously been approved after the House had resolved itself into the “Committee of the Whole” to consider H.R. 2847. Under House procedures, bills are typically debated and amended in the “Committee of the Whole” to facilitate their consideration. The membership of that committee, which is technically an entity separate from the full House of Representatives, is the same as that of the House. After the completion of debate, bills are formally reported back by the “Committee” to the House. This separate vote was requested by the Republicans as a delaying tactic, and was part of an effort by the Republicans to protest the decision of the Democratic majority to limit the number of amendments that could be offered to H.R, 2847.
During the debate on the first vote on this amendment in the Committee of the Whole, Rep. Burton had 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 also 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 then 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.” Burton said he was particularly troubled by reports that the organization known as ACORN, which had received substantial criticism from some elements of the press and which Burton described as being “responsible for multiple instances of vote fraud in the 2008 presidential election”, would be used in conducting the census.
Rep. Mollohan (D-WV), who was managing H.R. 2847 for the Democrats, had said that, although he was “sympathetic” to (Burton’s) interest”, Mollohan did not “share his concern”. Mollohan acknowledged that: “(T)here was some talk earlier this year about the White House . . . taking a leadership role in the census.” He then added: “(W)e have had public assurances and private assurances that indeed the White House has no such intention.” Mollohan then assured Burton “we are on top of this . . . .” Mollohan had previously stated that he was certain “there is no inappropriate involvement by the White House. I absolutely embrace (Burton’s) notion that the Congress should be fashioning it, and I think we are doing that with quite a bit of oversight.”
Mollohan said he knew “there is a lot of concern (about the ACORN organization). I hear it on radio, I see it on television, certain talk radios are obsessing with regard to ACORN, and I think, personally, in many ways demonizing a whole organization for the conduct of a few.” He acknowledged that “ACORN could be a part of the 30,000 partnerships that the Census Bureau will embrace to reach out to communities, many of them hard-to-identify communities.”
This second vote on the amendment was 251-168. One hundred and seventy-three Republicans and seventy-eight Democrats voted “aye”. All one hundred and sixty-eight “nay” votes were cast by Democrats, including the most progressive Democratic Members. As a result, the amendment was again approved and language was added to the appropriations bill prohibiting any funds from being used to relocate census personnel to the President’s Office.