Partisan bickering heats up over census

The Associated Press
Friday February 16, 2001

WASHINGTON — Republicans brushed aside Democratic suggestions that President Bush’s efforts to build a more inclusive GOP would suffer if his administration failed to adjust the 2000 census to protect against an undercount of minorities. 

Preliminary estimates from a survey following the 2000 census showed it missed a smaller percentage of Americans in 2000 than in 1990.  

Republicans were especially heartened that estimates showed smaller percentages of uncounted blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and children – groups traditionally missed in a census. 

House Democrats, though, maintained Thursday that about 3 million people still could be left out.  

They want Bush to allow the Census Bureau’s acting director, William Barron, to make the final decision over whether the raw count should be statistically adjusted using “sampling.” 

It was unclear if Bush would block a decision by Barron over the Clinton-era sampling plan. Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, the third-ranking House Democrat said Thursday the decision will be a test the president’s effort to make the Republican Party more moderate and more inclusive. 

The stakes are high: The sampled numbers, if approved, could be used to remap political districts and redistribute over $185 billion in federal funds across the country. 

“I don’t think the Bush administration can have it both ways,” Frost said.  

“They can’t claim to be compassionate ... and then not have an adjustment.” 

Republicans dismissed Frost’s comment as political rhetoric. 

“This has nothing to do with the direction of the party in terms of making it more inclusive,” said John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.  

“Our view is there’s no need for a sampling scheme at all because it’s the most accurate census in history.” 

Republicans, in general, contend that using sampling could create “virtual people” and would introduce more error into the improved census count. 

The net undercount for all Americans declined from 1.6 percent in 1990, to between 0.96 percent and 1.4 percent in 2000, according to the preliminary estimates based on a separate survey – which used sampling methods – conducted after the actual census. 

Those estimates also showed declines in the undercount percentages for minorities, though the undercounts for blacks and Hispanics were still higher than for whites. 

“Our system of democracy works at its best when all of our nation’s people are counted and accounted for,” said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau.  

He supports using sampling for redistricting. 

But Chip Walker, spokesman for Rep. Dan Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee’s census panel, sees sampling differently. 

Democrats have “always viewed the census as an opportunity for a political power-grab by creating millions of virtual people with their risky sampling scheme,” Walker said. 

Bush has said an actual “head count” yields the most accurate census.  

The White House has not announced a timetable for a decision, but some Republicans say Bush has told House GOP leaders he would block sampled data from being used for redistricting. All sides acknowledge the issue will eventually be decided in court.On the Net: 

The Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov/