No ‘Pope Francis effect’ on Capitol Hill gridlock

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c. 2014 Religion News Service

(RNS) How partisan and unproductive is the current Congress?

The epitome of its dysfunction may have arrived with last week’s wrap-up before a five-week summer recess, as House Republicans failed to pass their own scaled-back bill on the border children crisis on Thursday (July 31). Realizing how bad that looked, lawmakers returned on Friday to pass an even more severe bill that had no chance of going anywhere.

But a better gauge of the problem may be the fact that despite the almost universal popularity of Pope Francis, the House of Representatives was unable to muster enough bipartisan support to pass a resolution lauding Francis’ election — nearly 18 months ago.

The bill, H.Res. 440, seems straightforward, as it aims to congratulate Francis on his March 2013 election and recognize “his inspirational statements and actions.”

The main obstacle, however, is that Francis may be viewed as “too liberal” by many political conservatives, a belief that has also unsettled many Catholic conservatives.

An unnamed Republican backer of the legislation told The Hill newspaper last week that the pope is “sounding like (President) Obama” because he “talks about equality” and he has blasted “trickle-down economics,” a favorite theory of many conservatives and “politically charged,” as the GOP official said.

Even though the bill has New York Rep. Peter King, a reliably conservative Republican, as a chief co-sponsor (along with Democrat John Larson of Connecticut, also a Catholic), it has failed to catch on with the GOP. The resolution has 223 co-sponsors altogether, but just 20 are Republicans.

The resolution was introduced last December but has been stuck in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Larson urged Speaker John Boehner, a Republican and a Catholic who earlier this year issued a formal invitation to Francis to address a joint session of Congress when the pope is expected to visit the U.S. next year, to bring the resolution to the floor before last Friday’s adjournment but it didn’t happen.

“The Speaker’s invited him (the pope) to speak,” King told The Hill. “It would give it more significance if there was an actual official resolution about it.”

On the other hand, the text of the resolution focuses almost exclusively on Francis’ concern for the poor and his push for “economic justice,” and on his simple lifestyle and advocacy of humanitarian causes. There is no word about abortion or gay marriage, for example.

Boehner’s invitation includes the pope’s concern for “the unborn” in its praise of the pontiff, and it blasts the “ongoing centralization of political power in the institutions of our federal government” while driving home other favorite GOP talking points.

Still, nearly half of all simple resolutions introduced in the last two years were passed, so it’s notable that one praising Pope Francis couldn’t even make it out of committee in this Congress.