House bill reins in Census Bureau, Justice

Immigration, voter-ID lawsuits and annual surveys are targets

House Republicans voted this week to kill a major part of the census and to rein in the Obama administration’s lawsuits against states over immigration laws, voter-identification laws and gay-marriage statutes — but gave a thumbs-up to Mr. Obama’s battle with states that have medical marijuana laws.

The votes came as the House passed its first spending bill of the year, which funds the Commerce and Justice Departments, among other agencies, and it underscored the free-wheeling atmosphere that the Republican Party has allowed in its spending debates since taking control of the chamber last year.

Those rules have allowed House Republicans to attack many of the Obama policies they oppose, and to settle some long-term scores — such as reining in the Census Bureau.

Conservatives have long argued the agency pries too deeply into Americans’ lives with its long-form questionnaire, which over the past decade has become the American Community Survey. The ACS doesn’t replace the decennial census, but rather is taken every year of a smaller group of Americans, giving the Census Bureau continually updated data.

House lawmakers voted first to halt the Census Bureau from fining anyone who refuses to participate, and then voted 232-190 to end the ACS altogether.

“We need to ask ourselves whether this survey is worth $2.4 billion,” said Rep. Daniel Webster, Florida Republican, who offered the amendment to eliminate the ACS.

Other targets for Republicans were centered on what they see as Obama administration overreach and passed on overwhelmingly party-line votes, including:

• An amendment blocking the administration from taking actions that contradict the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage for federal purposes as the union of a man and a woman. That amendment passed 245-171, with 16 Democrats voting with the majority and seven Republicans voting against it.

• A provision that prevents the administration from pursuing cases against Arizona and other states that have passed immigration crack-down laws. That passed 238-173 with 12 Democrats voting for it and six Republicans — notably, the party’s Cuban-American members from Florida — voting against it.

• An amendment that halts the Obama administration’s efforts to prevent states from enhancing their voter-identification laws. It was the most polarizing of the efforts to control the Justice Department, passing on a 232-190 vote with only one Democrat, Rep. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, supporting it, and seven Republicans opposing it.

But the House didn’t want to rein in the administration’s efforts across the board. An amendment offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, to keep the Justice Department from meddling in states that allow medical marijuana use, was soundly defeated, 262-163. Only 28 Republicans voted to end the Obama administration’s actions, joining 135 Democrats who said their president’s Justice Department was going too far.

Republicans said the debate showed they are looking to push back against a president who seems at war with states.

“There is a very strong sentiment that the Congress needs to reassert itself in a whole host of areas where the executive branch is not essentially following long-standing policies established by law by the federal government,” said Rep. Robert G. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican.

While Democrats have called for free-wheeling House rules, they criticized the end result on the spending bill. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said the amendments that got attached to the House bill made it unpalatable to most Democrats.

But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said that’s the result of letting lawmakers offer any amendments they wish, and insist on votes — something that Democrats avoided in the final years they were in control.

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