03/03/2008 10:36 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

How Well Do Your Members of Congress Protect Children?

How well did your Members of Congress protect children last year?  The Children's Defense Fund Action Council answers this question in our new 2007 Nonpartisan Congressional Scorecard. It grades every member of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on how well they voted to protect children based on 10 key votes in each house covering a range of issues, including the federal budget, child health, education, tax relief and minimum wage measures. 

While the 110th Congress failed to provide all children health coverage or to override two presidential vetoes of funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which would have provided coverage to more than three million uninsured children, Congress did take some important strides forward for children and families in 2007. They passed the first increase in the minimum wage in a decade, bringing it from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour by 2009. The minimum wage is a cornerstone of a broader strategy to reduce child and family poverty, and approximately 6.4 million children under 18 are expected to benefit from this modest wage increase. Congress also passed measures providing greater access to and quality improvements in Head Start to help more young children start school ready to succeed and additional funds for student loans to help many more youth attend college.

Nevertheless, millions of children remain at risk, including 12.8 million children living in poverty, 5.5 million in extreme poverty; 9.4 million uninsured children, nearly 90 percent of whom live in working families; and the 97 percent of infants and toddlers who are eligible for the Early Head Start Program but are not enrolled.

The Children's Defense Fund Action Council's top priority in 2007 was comprehensive health coverage for every pregnant woman and for every child--not one-third, one-fourth or one-half of all children--but every child. We believe that the lives of all children are of equal value and that our Creator did not make two classes of children. We also believe it is morally--as well as practically--indefensible for political leaders of any party to claim we cannot afford to ensure the basic human right to health care for any child in our rich nation that leads the world in per capita health expenditures. So as SCHIP came up for reauthorization in 2007, the president and the Congress had an opportunity and responsibility to finish the job that SCHIP and Medicaid began by covering all children.

The CDF Action Council, building on the best practices in states and lessons learned about children falling through the bureaucratic cracks of Medicaid and SCHIP, strongly urged Congress to enact the All Healthy Children Act, S. 1564/H.R. 1688, introduced by Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) in the House and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the Senate. The measure would provide comprehensive benefits including dental and mental health, simplified bureaucracy, and a national eligibility plan for families up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level. We thank the 62 House co-sponsors for their support. However, we regret that neither a single House Republican nor any other Senator joined them to push for coverage for all children.

The CDF Action Council strongly supports long overdue health coverage for everyone in America as soon as possible--because children cannot wait. As SCHIP comes up again for reauthorization in early 2009, we hope every Member of Congress will insist on covering every child and pregnant mother now by enacting and adequately funding the provisions of the All Healthy Children Act. Specious claims that we could not find the money--$70 billion over five years--to cover all children is belied by that amount spent in eleven months for tax cuts for the top one percent of richest Americans and in seven months for the Iraq War.  We do not have a money problem in America: We have a priorities and political will deficit. It is time for all adults to protect the health of our children. The citizens of the nation must demand that our leaders free our children from the false ideological and political tugs of war among those who put excess profits ahead of children's lives.

How well did Congress protect children in 2007? Not well enough: 276 Members of Congress had good CDF Action Council Congressional Scorecard scores of 80 percent or higher, and 198 of those had stellar scores of 100 percent. But 231 members scored 60 percent or lower--a failing grade from our school days.

Whether Members of Congress are liberal, conservative or moderate; Democrat, Republican or Independent, children need all of them to vote, lobby, speak for and protect them. Adults need to listen carefully to what candidates say they will do for children and families and, once they are in office, we need to hold them accountable. Please thank your Members of Congress with scores of 80 percent or above and let those with scores of 60 percent or below know you are dissatisfied with their performance. And please convey that same message to each presidential candidate. We must demand that our leaders commit to children as a condition of our vote.

To access our interactive online Scorecard and see how your Members voted, visit the CDF Action Council website at here.