President Obama’s second inaugural address asserted America’s communal potential. Covering a variety of challenges, he recalled the ways we came together in the past as precedence for addressing our current needs cooperatively. He invoked the principles of the Declaration of Independence as both our common bond and the ultimate purpose in coming together. In the process, President Obama made clear that not even the most vulnerable is exempt from the American community.
A part of looking back recalled “when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn” and the precedent we set to “resolv[e} that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortunes.” President Obama did not focus exclusively on vulnerable children and families, but when he did, he was resolute. He declared that “we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice” and that we “cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.” He strongly stated that our common integrity lies in our commitment to all of our children as he said, “We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.” Finally, he proclaimed that children are a national priority in saying, “Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.”
The next day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) spoke on the floor of the Senate about his intention to further the principles of opportunity and equality laid out by the president. Pointing to a tradition of setting a marker for the priorities of a new Senate, Reid said their first 10 bills will seek “to fulfill the promise of prosperity for every American.” Some of these initial bills, like the Violence Against Women Act, Preparing for Extreme Weather, and the Agriculture Jobs Bill are being reintroduced from the last session. Other bills, including Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Sandy Hook Elementary School Violence Reduction Act, and the Strengthen Our Schools and Students Act are in the form of a “sense of the Senate” until the details of the legislative language is developed. Bills on elections and taxes as well as remarks on the need for bipartisanship and Senate rules changes were included in Reid’s agenda, but the overarching message was clear. In his words, “Democrats will hold fast to the guiding principle that a strong middle class—and an opportunity for every American to enter that middle class—is the key to this nation’s success.”
As leaders of the new Congress and returning Administration, Obama and Reid have a set a roadmap of priorities that are very inclusive of vulnerable children and families. Neither talked specifically about child welfare, but both presented potential vehicles for moving CWLA’s priorities.