The House last week voted to abolish the American Community Survey, a census program that reveals how Americans live, work and shop -- information that 's vital to marketers.
During the debate on a bill that funds the Commerce Department, which has oversight of the U.S. Census Bureau, conservative Republicans voted first to prevent the bureau from imposing fines on people who don't fill out the ACS "long form" that collects detailed data on U.S. households each year.
Then Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., won support for an amendment that would abolish the ACS, saying it is unconstitutional to pry into Americans' lives that way.
A tea party member, Mr. Webster said the survey asked Americans about their emotional condition, what time they left for work and a host of other "intrusive" questions.
"It would seem this hardly fits the scope of what is required by the Constitution," Mr. Webster said.
The Constitution requires a count of all Americans every 10 years.
But privacy may not be the only concern of some who oppose the ACS.
About $400 billion in federal and state programs are distributed each year using information collected by the ACS.
Conservatives in Congress have long criticized it for sampling the population to determine national statistics. Critics say sampling is inaccurate and tends to overrepresent Democratic-leaning minorities.
The Census Bureau said that the work of the ACS is vital and the cuts House Republicans imposed would make it difficult to conduct the next national census in 2012.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-K.Y., introduced a bill this week that would abolish the ACS. But the program is not dead yet -- and may never be.
The commerce, justice, science appropriations bill that would abolish the program must be approved by the Senate, which won't buy an end to the ACS.
As it did last year, the Democratic-controlled Senate is likely to put Mr. Paul's bill in a deep freeze. It will also ignore the House-approved appropriations bill that cut the ACS.
A final budget to fund the Commerce Department and all the federal agencies will be negotiated by both Chambers later this year, perhaps in a lame-duck session after November's elections.
Dick O'Brien, head of the Washington office of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said, "Killing the survey represents a problem for advertisers and marketers." He said removing the information the ACS provides "takes away a vital resource."
Mr. O'Brien, however, pointed out that the internet is helping advertisers and marketers collect data, so the ACS isn't as important as it once was.