The Importance of Extra Credit

Jim McGovern (top), Ed Royce (bottom left), Ben Cardin (bottom right)

Members of Congress are responsible for casting votes on issues of national importance, including foreign policy priorities. Many Representatives and Senators have a perfect voting record from our members’ perspective, earning an A on the Global Solutions Congressional Report Card. Yet some in Congress do more than cast a vote; they actively champion policies that prevent war, build peace, cooperate with international norms, and defend human rights. That’s why Global Solutions Action Network rewards extra credit to those in Congress that go beyond the ballot on our core issues.

Representatives and Senators demonstrate their commitment to the values we share by sponsoring relevant legislation, speaking out on the floor of the House or Senate, writing op-eds and Dear Colleagues letters, and chairing relevant caucuses that promote our concerns. Any of these efforts can raise a member of Congress’ grade by one mark, from a B+ to A- for example. Legislators that show exceptional leadership on global issues, by promoting our core issues through multiple avenues, can even have their grade raised a full letter, from a B- to A-.

Differentiating between legislators with and without extra credit allows us to pinpoint the outspoken leaders on various global issues. A perfect voting record can only earn up to an A in the Report Card. Efforts worthy of extra credit distinguish Congress’ global leaders, and therefore we deem it fitting that the only way to receive an A+ is through extra credit. Some members may vote contrary to our preferred position on some issues, but earn credit due to their views on others. Thus even Senators or Representatives who score a D or F can earn extra credit that raises their grade. 

Despite the consistency of partisanship on global issues, there are legislators on both sides of the aisle who have done more than the party minimum in promoting U.S. leadership on human rights, food aid, or security. Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Representative James McGovern (D-MA), and Representative Ed Royce (R-CA) are three examples of the Congressional leadership we saw on these issues in 2012-2013.

Ben Cardin, Co-Chair of the Helsinki Commission, endorsed the establishment of a UN Parliamentary Assembly and called for U.S. leadership in preventing mass atrocities. Jim McGovern, Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, continues to be a prolific sponsor of human rights legislation and proponent of treaty ratification. Ed Royce, Co-Chair of the International Conservation Caucus, sponsored legislation that would allow up to 45% of international food aid funds to go towards commodities purchased outside of the U.S., making international food aid more cost effective. In a 2013 op/ed, Royce noted, 

Experience shows that buying food closer to its distribution point is faster, cheaper, and helps save lives. In recent years, a small government pilot program has experimented with “local and regional purchase” efforts. The result? Aid that costs 25-50 percent less and is delivered 11 to 14 weeks faster than under the current system.

Regardless of their overall voting records, these three leaders exemplify the knowledge and passion on foreign policy that we value in a member of the United States Congress.

Anyone who wants the U.S. to be more cooperative with international structures should look to those Senators and Representatives that earned extra credit. It’s the extra credit that separates champions from supporters or opponents. The extra credit also allows advocates to see how party is not everything; that Republicans and Democrats can both champion responsible means of addressing global challenges. If we want partisan foreign policy to end, we’ll need more people like Ben Cardin, Jim McGovern, and Ed Royce in Congress.


Jack S. Ramirez

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Citizens for Global Solutions.

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