Child Watch® Column: "Judging the Candidates on Their Records"

Release Date: October 7, 2008
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Marian Wright Edelman

During nearly two years of presidential campaigning, the candidates have made claims and promises on how they would perform if they are elected to the White House. Some of the criteria we might use to judge a candidate's fitness and temperament for leadership are difficult to quantify. But one concrete and objective way to assess how candidates measure up on crucial issues is by examining their voting records.

In this election year, when three of the four nominees for President and Vice President are sitting U.S. Senators—Barack Obama (D-IL), John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Biden (D-DE)—each has a record of roll call votes cast in Congress. Each year, through its Nonpartisan Congressional Scorecard, the Children's Defense Fund Action Council selects congressional roll call votes to illustrate how the Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives voted on key issues affecting children and families. The Scorecard is a tool to help voters determine whether their lawmakers in Congress have voted in their interests so citizens can hold them accountable when they go to the polls on Election Day.

I learned the passage, "By their works ye shall know them," in Sunday School a long time ago. And a look at the voting records of the candidates, as reflected in the Scorecard, clearly reveals who among them is working for children and who isn't. Over the last three years, the Scorecard has shown that Sens. Obama and Biden voted with the CDF Action Council's position on major legislation an overwhelming majority of the time—better than 85 percent. In contrast, Sen. McCain consistently scored under 30 percent.

One of the measures the Scorecard included was a bill reauthorizing the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) for five years and increasing funding for SCHIP and Medicaid by nearly $35 billion over that period. The cost of the expansion would have been funded by a 61 cent a pack federal cigarette tax increase. The measure would have extended health coverage to more than one-third (3.2 million) of America's nine million uninsured children. Sens. Obama and Biden supported the legislation while Sen. McCain voted "no." CDF strongly urged coverage for all children. Yet even this modest proposal could not win enough Republican support, including Senator McCain's, to override a White House veto.

Senators Obama and Biden voted with the CDF Action Council on most other legislative initiatives including support for federal budget priorities such as increasing funding for education and home heating assistance, increasing the minimum wage and stopping cuts to the Medicaid program. They opposed legislation to give the gun industry immunity from lawsuits filed by victims of gun violence. Senator John McCain voted on the other side of each of these measures.

Senator Obama's cumulative score over three years is 87 percent; Senator Biden's since 1981 is 85 percent; and Senator McCain's since 1983 is 28 percent. The scores for the candidates on the 2005 Scorecard were: Obama, 100 percent; Biden, 89 percent; and McCain, 22 percent. In 2006, it was Obama and Biden each with scores of 100 percent while McCain's score was 10 percent. (Since Republican Vice Presidential nominee Governor Sarah Palin (Alaska) did not serve in Congress, she has no comparable record.) In 2007, all of the Senators were traveling on the campaign trail and had lower scores than in past years due to absences.  Senator McCain, however, had the lowest score on children's issues in the entire Senate—with only 10 percent.

On November 4, we will not only consider the candidacy of three U.S. Senators who are running for President and Vice President at the top of the ballot, but 28 incumbent Senators and nearly 400 House Members who are running for re-election—all with congressional voting records contained in the CDF Action Council® Scorecard. In 2007, 25 Senators had a score of 100 percent, while 13 Senators had scores of 30 percent or lower. In the House, 173 Representatives scored 100 percent and 132 had 30 percent scores or lower.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Protestant theologian who was executed for opposing Adolf Hitler's Holocaust, said that, "The test of the morality of a society is how it treats its children." During federal elections, the Scorecard is particularly useful as an objective measure of how well Members of Congress met that test by supporting policies and programs that benefit the "least of these," especially poor children who are too young to vote and don't have the money to hire expensive lobbyists or spread around millions of dollars in campaign contributions.

I hope the CDF Action Council Scorecard is helpful to voters as they decide whether candidates for office pass Dietrich Bonhoeffer's test. Once armed with this information, they must get out and vote and count for children. There's just too much at stake.

For more information about the CDF Action Council and its Scorecard, please visit: http://www.cdfactioncouncil.org/.


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