WASHINGTON -- President Clinton Saturday urged all Americans to participate in this year's census, and took direct aim at Republicans who have grumbled about the intrusiveness of some questions.
''Those who suggest that filling out your census form isn't essential are plainly wrong,'' Clinton said in his weekly radio address. His remarks coincided with Census Day, the April 1 once a decade on which Americans are asked to tell the government who and where they are.
''I know Americans are concerned about their privacy, and that's why I also want to stress that the information you provide is strictly, absolutely confidential,'' Clinton said. ''Individual information will not be available to anyone outside the Census Bureau for any reason.''
Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has said he's not sure he would fill out the 53-question ''long form,'' which includes questions about income, education, employment and health. The ''short form'' asks only a few basic questions.
''We want as accurate a count as possible but I can understand why people don't want to give over that information to the government,'' Bush said Thursday during a campaign stop in Milwaukee. ''And if I have the long form, I'm not sure I would either.''
The Texas governor didn't advise people not to complete the form. But he said, ''If they're worried about the government intruding into their personal lives, they ought to think about it.''
White House spokesman Jake Siewert said Friday it is disturbing for elected officials to suggest less than full compliance with the census, which is used to apportion federal aid and congressional representation, among other purposes.
''This is something that's in the Constitution,'' Siewert said.
The Census Bureau sent questionnaires to the country's 115 million households in March, but officially they want to know how many people are living in each home on April 1.
''Census 2000 is our chance to write the latest chapter in the unfolding epoch of America,'' Clinton said in his address. ''Even though the census is taken only once a decade, it has an impact on our lives every day.''
As of Friday, 50 percent of census forms had been mailed back. Census officials hoped to get 70 percent of the forms back by late April.
Aides to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said they strongly urged people to return forms but suggested that callers worried about privacy could leave intrusive questions unanswered. That was a better solution than not returning a form, Lott's staff said.
Lott's office and at least two House Republicans said they had received a number of complaints in recent days about questions on census forms. Reps. Nick Smith, R-Mich. and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., were specifically critical of the long form, sent to one in six of the country's households.
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., said the GOP opposition was motivated by politics.
''The Republicans have been trying to frustrate this census from the beginning,'' said Gephardt. ''They don't want more people counted because they think it serves their political purpose. That's a pretty shoddy reason to do what they're doing.''
Democrats have long supported using a statistical method known as sampling to adjust actual head counts to account for populations with traditionally low response rates, such as minority groups in cities. Republican lawmakers have opposed sampling, fearing it could force a redrawing of boundary lines to their disadvantage.
Census officials estimate the 1990 head count missed more than 8 million people.
On the Net: http://www.census.gov
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