Presidential Leadership Needed in the Fight to End Poverty
Senator Barack Obama's presidential announcement brought him squarely into the campaign dialog on the fight against poverty. Obama's call to "be the generation that ends poverty" makes him the second democratic presidential candidate to pledge presidential leadership that will set a substantive agenda for economic security and fairness for all.
While many see his announcement from Springfield as an attempt to invoke comparisons to Lincoln, Illinois anti-poverty advocates know that Springfield is where Obama rolled up his sleeves and led successful actions against poverty.
In 1997, Senator Obama was the lead Senate negotiator on the bill to implement the Welfare Reform Act. In spite of the disadvantage of being in the minority party, he made sure that Illinois took advantage of state options to maximize work activity and help families. This included leadership to ensure that virtually all of the "welfare dividend" derived from reduced welfare rolls was reinvested in work-supporting investments such as the child care program and post-secondary student assistance programs.
He sponsored both the Victims Economic Security and Safety Act, which protects the workplace rights of victims of family violence and sexual abuse, and the ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In 1998, Obama was a leader in our state's adoption of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, and in 2001, Obama led in building that program into the Family Care Program that now offers health coverage to the 400,000 working parents.
Senator Obama engineered an expansion of the state earned-income tax credit in 2000 and made the credit permanent and refundable in 2003.
In 2004, he sponsored the Health Care Justice Act, which has paved the way for a plan to implement a health care system for all Illinois residents.
This record shows that he has already won battle after battle for economic justice for all, especially working with people in low and middle income families, and not just the healthy and wealthy. And now in declaring that he "wants to win the next battle for justice and opportunity" he's ready to take that experience to the national stage.
The fight against American poverty has been an issue also championed by John Edwards in the last few years. And now, Obama's candidacy guarantees a vigorous debate on the issue for the first time in nearly 40 years. Both Barack Obama and John Edwards should be recognized for raising the right issues from the very start of their campaigns. The country is hungry for a renewed focus on economic justice, and people are demanding economic security and fairness for all. Other Democratic candidates -- and the Republican field, for that matter -- should enter this conversation.