Politics

Political Battle Brews Over 2010 Census

A political battle has erupted over next year's census with Republican lawmakers protesting President Obama's decision to take a bigger role in supervising the process.

The Census Bureau director, who reports to the commerce secretary, now also will keep the White House directly in the loop.

The White House says it is following a historical precedent and that this simply shows that the census is a priority for the president. But Republicans say it looks like a political power grab.

"The United States census should remain independent of politics," House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "It should not be directed by political operatives working out of the White House."

"I'm very concerned," Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., told FOX News. "The Census Bureau has worked for decades to get rid of the cronyism and the partisan politics that had permeated that agency.

"And they have done it by bringing professionalism to the agency and making certain that individuals that came there went through a very thorough process. Anytime there is an administration that will tamper with that, this is a concern to anyone."

Blackburn, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the committee will hold hearings to investigate the change.

But Rep. Chris Van Hollen, R-Md., the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee tasked with getting Democrats elected, said nothing nefarious is behind the move. 

"The more eyes taking a look at this the better," Van Hollen told "FOX News Sunday." "It matters less exactly what the reporting mechanism is than that we get the facts and the count right."

The census count is supposed to be a nonpartisan process. But it also helps to determine how congressional lines are drawn. And it shows the demographic changes of the nation of the past 10 years, which could shift billions of dollars in federal funding for things like schools and roads and job training.

Some Republicans suspect this could be a move by the White House to gerrymander those political boundaries so they benefit Democratic candidates.

"To shift it to the White House to me just politicizes the census, which is not something we should be doing," said Sen John Cornyn, R-Texas, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee that gets GOP senators elected.

"If you cook the figures up front, I think it distorts that process going forward and the notion of one person, one vote," he said.

The economic recovery package currently being debated on Capitol Hill includes $1 billion to fix errors that occur in the 2010 Census.

The move of venue comes after some advocates worried aloud that Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., Obama's nominee for commerce secretary, wouldn't push hard for a count of Hispanics and other minorities in the census.

Boehner said the White House oversight "appears to be motivated by politics" because Gregg has been picked by Obama to take over the Commerce Department.

But Obama officials insist they're simply returning to the model used under President Clinton.

"I think the historical precedent of this is there's a director of the census that works for the secretary of commerce, the president and also works closely with the White House to ensure a timely and accurate count," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

The Clinton and Bush administrations had different ways of dealing with the census. The Clinton administration placed a panel of experts at the Census Bureau in charge of adjusting data for people the census missed or double-counted. Clinton officials said it would insulate the decision from political pressure.

The Bush administration changed those regulations before that panel ruled on the 2000 results, leaving it up to the commerce secretary to oversee the bureau's work.

FOX News' Caroline Shively contributed to this report.