Rehnquist: Leave judiciary out of census debate

Facing a funding cutoff June 15 because of the fight between Republicans and the Clinton administration over the use of sampling in next year's census, Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist has urged House and Senate appropriators to exempt the judiciary from the fight.

"The judicial branch should not, and does not, have any role in this debate, as the resolution of this issue very properly rests with the political branches of government," Rehnquist wrote in a letter dated March 17. "The judiciary's appropriations should, therefore, also be free from entanglement in this political dispute."

The letter was sent to House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., and ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., while a similar letter was sent to their Senate counterparts.

As part of a deal reached last year by House Republicans and the Clinton administration, fiscal 1999 Commerce- Justice-State funding, which includes the judiciary and Census Bureau, after June 15 must be approved by Congress and President Clinton. Republicans charged that, to give him a better bargaining position, Clinton insisted on having the three departments included in the cutoff, but there has been some discussion of fencing off the census funding, which a Democratic census staffer called "absolutely unacceptable."

A spokeswoman for House Appropriations Committee Democrats said, "Some committee Democrats don't believe we should be shutting down the government," but did not say whether Democrats would agree to exempt judiciary funding from the June 15 deadline.

House Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., last week made reference to the judiciary in a hearing at which Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt told the panel the bureau's revised fiscal 2000 budget request would not be available until later this spring.

"Does it bother you that the Supreme Court will be waiting for its pay?" Rogers asked. "Does it bother you that the lights in the Supreme Court will go out?"

A spokeswoman for the Appropriations Committee said she has not seen the letter, but said the panel did not want the funding held up either. "That's our position as well," she said. "We want nothing more than to see the full funding flow."

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Monday announced that, following on efforts last week to release aid money from the fiscal 1999 supplemental to respond to the farm crisis, Senate Democrats and the administration have found $30 million in temporary funding to back $333 million in emergency farm loans and meet temporary staff needs at local Farm Service Agency offices. This sum will provide stopgap aid until Congress finishes work on the supplemental, which contains $153 million in emergency farm aid - $110 million to guarantee farm loans and $43 million to release disaster relief payments to eligible farmers.

Both the House and Senate have passed versions of the supplemental, but have yet to convene a conference committee. An aide to Daschle said that when Congress reconvenes in April, Senate Democrats "will continue to do everything we can in whatever way necessary to get this money out to farm country."

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