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The Latest White House Power Play

Traditionally, it is the function of the Department of Commerce to oversee the nationwide census that is mandated by the Constitution to occur every ten years. But even as the President seeks to convince us that he is trying to reach out and be bipartisan in his approach to Washington by nominating a Republican Senator, Judd Gregg, to serve as Secretary of Commerce, the President is seeking to emasculate one of Commerce’s key functions by giving the White House power to conduct the census.

The excuse given is that the White House has to appease minority groups that complain that as a Senator, Gregg has not given sufficient support to census efforts and that in his Senate votes, Gregg has sought to eliminate the Commerce Department. Of course, if the Obama Administration were concerned about Gregg’s commitment to the work of the Commerce Secretary, they should not have appointed him and if these minority groups are concerned about the appointment, they should be targeting the White House, not Senator Gregg.

Call me cynical, but it seems to me that the reason for this effort to shut Gregg out of census-related issues has to do with the fact that the census will determine redistricting, which in turn will determine the balance of power in Congress. The Obama Administration, therefore, wants the census to be run out of the West Wing so that it can take a direct hand in helping determine the balance of power and making sure that it favors the Democrats.

If so, a Constitutional responsibility is being subsumed by a naked power grab. And let’s remember that taking the census operation and consolidating it in the White House lessens Congress’s oversight capabilities, because Congress will not be able to call up the relevant Cabinet officials to get answers out of them concerning census issues. Rather, Congress will have to fight to get White House officials like Rahm Emanuel, the Chief of Staff, to come up to the Hill to testify and as we all know, getting White House officials to testify comes with a series of headaches and obstacles to be overcome.

But I suppose that the White House considers all of this preferable to having a Republican Commerce Secretary run the census as Commerce Secretaries are wont to do. I suppose as well that all of this is preferable to allowing Congressional hearings to take place more easily, and allowing Republicans to ask questions in those hearings as well.

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