Top Republican lawmakers claimed a breakthrough deal Sunday with the Clinton administration over the 2000 census.
But Democrats were initially unhappy, and the year’s first weekend session found Congress still wrestling over abortion and overdue spending bills.
The premier issue on lawmakers’ plates was a decisive House vote on President Clinton’s trade initiative, and that showdown kept slipping as the administration and its GOP supporters searched for more support.
Because of those delays and problems with the three remaining spending bills for the already month-old fiscal 1998, Congress’ goal of adjourning for the year Sunday night proved elusive.
As a result, the House passed a bill, by voice vote, keeping agencies with unfinished budgets functioning for another day, and the Senate was sending it to the White House for Clinton’s signature.
One major hurdle seemed to be toppled by the agreement over the upcoming census, an issue with profound effects on both parties’ chances of controlling the House in the next decade. Republicans have been trying to block Census Bureau plans to use statistical sampling in 2000, and under the agreement, that dispute will be fought anew in 1999.
But that wasn’t good enough for House Democrats, who complained about having to fight the battle again and a provision under which Congress would finance a Republican court challenge against sampling.
“In effect, we’d be footing the bill for the RNC” (Republican National Committee), said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.
The administration says sampling, which uses computers to estimate populations, will help prevent anticipated undercounts of minorities.
Republicans, who oppose sampling, have said the technique could be abused to produce minority-dominated districts, which tend to vote Democratic.
“I anticipate that … the census will be conducted with actual enumeration,” or face-to-face counting, said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Census Bureau.
The agreement would let a court challenge to the constitutionality of sampling reach the Supreme Court under accelerated procedures.
Meanwhile, the Census Bureau could make preliminary preparations next year involving both sampling and traditional procedures - watched closely by an oversight board with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans.