How well do your members of Congress protect children?
The Children's Defense Fund Action Council's new 2006 Congressional scorecard grades every member of the House and Senate on how well they voted to protect children based on 10 key votes in each House. While many individual members passed with flying colors, the 109th Congress as a whole failed to do right by children and act on major legislation that would have improved the lives of millions of America's children.
The 109th Congress met for less time on the people's business than any Congress in half a century. Not since the infamous "Do Nothing Congress" of 1948 — so named by President Harry Truman — has Congress chosen to convene to do the people's work for so few days. But it's a new year, with a new group of elected leaders.
Despite the urgent needs of our most vulnerable children, the 2006 Congress failed to help the nine million uninsured children or adequately respond to the needs of Katrina's children who are still suffering. They failed to increase funding to maintain and expand quality services for children in the Head Start program; failed to restore cuts in childcare funding and provide the needed increase to help low-income families work; and didn't increase funding for education and special education programs. They didn't find time to raise the minimum wage to help millions of Americans struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables and meet their families' healthcare needs, but they did find time to give new tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, recklessly adding to the national debt.
The Action Council's scorecard graded members of the House and Senate on 10 key votes that directly impact the lives of children. It applauds the 26 senators, including Sen. Ron Wyden, and 98 members of the House who scored 100 percent, voting to protect children on each of the key votes.
Twenty-three senators and seven members of the House scored zero percent, voting against improving the lives of children every time. North Dakota and Vermont's Congressional delegations had the best score for children, while New Hampshire, Alaska and Wyoming were rated the three worst delegations for children.
This new Congress has the opportunity and responsibility to guarantee millions of children the long overdue health coverage they need and to lift millions more of the 13 million children out of poverty. How we take care of our children speaks to our values as a society. Every voter should insist that health care for all — not some — children is a must-do this year. It's time for the federal government to take a more active leadership and partnership role with states in assuring health coverage for all children as it does with senior citizens. Our children's future — our nation's future — depends now more than ever on what we do in the present.
Every voter must urge their senators and representatives to take the smart, right and moral action for children in 2007. Tell your elected officials that you will hold them accountable and will be watching to ensure that, this year, children are truly the priority they deserve to be.
How well are your elected officials doing? To see the scorecard in its entirety, that includes the grades of all members of Congress, visit cdfactioncouncil.org.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children's Defense Fund and its Action Council.