IWall Street Journal editors criticized the latest target of the party’s entrenched ideologues; the American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS is a long-form version of the census but it’s administered annually using a much smaller population sample. Despite the merits of the survey, which has been used since 1850, the Republican-controlled House voted earlier this month to discontinue it.
Though the census is actually provided for in the Constitution (something many opponents seem to forget), the ACS replaced the traditional long-form census sample in 2005 to make the data-gathering more efficient and statistically representative. However, to partially fund the program, which is an enormous logistical effort, and to ensure compliance, there is a fine levied against citizens that do not respond within a certain timeframe. Of course, the alternative to this fine would be simply increasing taxes on everyone. Either way, the money needs to fund the program so that we can continue to compile valuable data on ourselves. This data is used for policy analysis, and is made public for anyone, private or public, that would like to access it; data that is perfectly valid regardless of ideology or political bias.Of course, House Republicans have crusaded against the ACS this year as yet another government overstep (read the Constitution) and an infringement on personal privacy. It’s a tired old marching song, but it’s sung nonetheless. The difference is that they’ve received considerable resistance to the idea from within their own base. WSJ accused the GOP of trying to “kill data used for economic growth.” Corporate megastore Target released a commercial in partnership with the Census Bureau promoting the ACS, and the American Enterprise Institute stated to a congressional oversight committee, “better control for the different skills of public and private sector employees.” In that last case, the Institute was using the data to prove that public sector employees should be paid less, which just goes to show that regardless of partisan stripes, information compiled by ACS is incredibly useful.
In perhaps the most asinine of all of the conservative arguments on this issue, is Andrew Coulson of the Cato Institute, who claimed that, “merely being beneficial is no justification for a government program.” In other words, just because a program does what it says it will and provides a benefit to anyone that would access it, is not justification for keeping the program going. By that logic all government programs should be effectively discontinued, regardless of merit. They call it “libertarianism”, others might call it “anarchy.”
This latest vote is further illustrative of the slow but accelerating pull-back from the conservative base from what is an quickly polarizing influence. Those on the furthest radical right have enjoyed a kind of resurgence in the last year of deeply ideological policymaking and rhetoric. However, after a year and with nothing to show for it but bruised egos and recall elections, there’s an inevitable counterbalance toward the center (well, right of center).