Saturday, April 26, 2008

Voting Records Matter

How U.S. House and Senate Members from New Mexico Voted on Some Recent Anti-Poverty Initiatives

In New Mexico, we have already begun to experience one of the most intense political seasons we've had in a long time, with all three of our sitting members of the House of Representatives giving up their seats to seek the U.S. Senate left vacant by the retirement of Sen. Pete Domenici.

None of the candidates running for the open House seats has had any experience in the U.S. Congress. One has served in the New Mexico Senate, some have held cabinet or executive posts in state or county government, and others have worked in the private sector . Others have served in legislative bodies like city council or county commission. While we may have an inkling of how they would vote on anti-poverty and hunger-related issues in the U.S. Congress based on their political philosophies, we have no legislative track record on which to base that assessment.

In contrast to the U.S. House races, we have more than enough information on how the three Senate candidates, Reps. Heather Wilson, Steve Pearce and Tom Udall, voted in regard to the issues that are important to Bread for the World members and anti-hunger and anti-poverty allies. Similar information is available for Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman.

Below are three measures that I picked to look at the records of our elected officials. You can also obtain voting records on hunger and poverty from Project Vote Smart, Friends Committee on National Legislation) and other sources. Keep in mind that some of the links below are in .pdf format and may take a little bit of time to load.

Shriver Center

The Shriver Center, based at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, recently published
a Poverty Scorecard as part of its State of Poverty Campaign.

"In consultation with our national advisory board and other antipoverty experts we selected the most significant votes on poverty issues in the U.S. Senate and House in the 2007 calendar year. The votes we selected include affordable housing, budget and tax, civil rights, early and higher education, health care, immigrants, labor, legal services, prisoner reentry, and rural poverty," said the report released earlier this year.

The scorecard gave Rep. Wilson 60 points (a B grade), Pearce 21 points (D), and Udall 100 points (A+) . Based on the formula used for anti-poverty legislative initiatives in the Senate, Sen. Domenici received 29 points (D) and Sen. Bingaman 100 points (A+)

Bread for the World

Bread for the World also put out its own rating for 2007 for all members of Congress, but its tracking record was limited to votes in two areas related to recent Offerings of Letters: The 2007 Farm Bill and global poverty initiatives.

In the House, Wilson voted for Bread's position on one of four initiatives, Pearce was 0-for-4, and Udall was 4-for-4.

Wilson and Udall voted against an amendment that would have cut $3 billion from an appropriations bill for foreign operations. The amendment failed, which means the cut in funding was approved, potentially affecting poverty-focused development assistance. Pearce voted for the amendment. Wilson and Pearce voted in opposition to Bread for the World's position for two other measures affecting poverty-focused development assistance, while Udall's vote was favorable.

In the one vote on the 2007 Farm Bill, Udall voted to support a bipartisan amendment to improve the farm safety net by replacing the current commodity based programs with a revenue-based safety net (developed by USDA experts to better protect family farmers). Wilson and Pearce voted against the amendment.

In the Senate, there were three votes that Bread used to create a scorecard. Bingaman voted with Bread for the World on two of the three initiatives, while Sen. Domenici was one for three. All three were related to the 2007 Farm Bill. Ironically, the one measure that Bingaman opposed was supported by Domenici.

The Jubilee Act

The most recent tracking of the voting records for the members of the House occurred just a couple of weeks ago when The Jubilee Act (HR2634) came up for a vote. This lead sponsors of the legislation were Rep. Spencer Bachus, a Republican from Alabama, and Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California. The initiative primarily addressed debt relief for the world's poorest countries.
According to language in the bill, Its purpose "was to provide for greater responsibility in lending and expanded cancellation of debts owed to the United States and the international financial institutions by low-income countries, and for other purposes."

The measure was approved by an overwhelming margin, with Udall and Pearce both voting yes. Rep. Wilson was one of 15 House members who did not cast a vote. See full
Roll Call

Companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate (S. 2166), where the bill enjoys strong bipartisan support and 26 co-sponsors. A Senate hearing on the Jubilee Act (S. 2166) was Thursday, April 24. As of that date, Sens. Bingaman and Domenici were not yet part of the list of cosponsors.
The Jubilee USA site has a handy form to send an e-mail message to our two senators asking them to co-sponsor this bill.

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