Republicans Block Legislative Efforts To Protect Children


3-25-05, 11:10 am

Child poverty and exposure to socials ills are growing, and the people who currently control our national government seem little concerned, according to recent information provided by the non-partisan Children's Defense Fund Action Council (CDF).

This week CDF released a report evaluating the work of Congress on legislative issues that directly impact the health and well being of America's children.

This report ranks members of Congress based on how they voted in 2004 on legislation affecting children. Issues covered in the survey included access to health care, access to education-related programs, programs to ease child poverty, gun violence, tax cuts for the rich, and child abuse and neglect.

'This is a dangerous time for children in America and we need to know which of our leaders are voting to protect children and which are voting to leave children behind,' said CDF Action Council President Marian Wright Edelman.

According to the report, 8 Senators and 43 members of the House of Representatives scored 100 percent. Not one member of the Republican Party was among those who scored perfect records on child issues.

In fact, 16 Senators scored 8 percent or less, all of who were either Republicans or the infamous retired Georgia Senator Zell Miller whose support for Republican Party initiatives caused many observers to wonder if he was in the right party.

In the House, 113 members scored 10 percent or less. All of them were Republicans, including Majority Leader Tom DeLay with 0 percent, House Speaker Dennis Hastert with 0 percent, and DeLay's expected replacement, John Boehner with 8 percent. Speaking directly to the Republican Party's claim that it represents 'compassionate conservatism,' Edelman insisted, 'We should not be persuaded merely by compassionate words – we need to look at actions and votes, far too many of which are profoundly unjust to children, who are the poorest age group of Americans.'

Edelman accused the Republicans of preferring to provide generous tax cuts for the very rich at the expense of children. 'Health coverage under Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), Head Start, and child welfare protections are all at risk, and our children are depending on members of Congress to be their champions,' she stated.

'It is morally indefensible to impose more unjust budget sacrifices on poor children to give tax cuts to millionaires while increasing the federal deficit,' Edelman concluded.

The Children's Defense Fund regards its mission as 'to Leave No Child Behind and to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.'

According to the most recent national figures provided by the US Census Bureau, The poverty rate and number of families in poverty increased from 9.6 percent and 7.2 million in 2002 to 10.0 percent and 7.6 million in 2003.

The poverty rate for American children increased from 16.7 percent in 2002 to 17.6 percent in 2003. The number in poverty rose, from 12.1 million to 12.9 million. This means that 1 in 6 children live in poverty in the richest country on earth.

Critics of the US Census Bureau's official figures say that because they are too low and don't reflect modern economic realities (the method of measuring poverty was adopted in the 1950s). The official poverty threshold for a family of four in 2003 was $18,810 and for a family of three, $14,680, according to the most recent US Census Bureau information put out last summer. Realistic thresholds would provide a much higher poverty rate for households and for children.

With stagnant wages and little growth in employment, few expect poverty rates to improve soon.

The proportion of children lacking health insurance stands at 11.4 percent of all US children, or 8.4 million. Because lower income children officially defined as poor sometimes have access to health care through Medicaid and WIC and other programs, many of these 8.4 million children come from working families that simply cannot afford high costs of medical care and insurance premiums.

One wonders what 'compassionate conservatism' really means.

--Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs and may be reached at