Tons of snow and tons of policy: Catholic Social Ministry Gathering Day 2

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Despite the federal government shutting down for business under the threat of another snowstorm, the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering was busy with heavy day of policy.

Some attendees were able to keep their Capitol Hill appointments as many senators and their staffs continued to work. One group reported that they not only visited their senators and had an unexpected hour-long conversation with their representative, but also handed out materials to a number of other offices.

At each gathering, participants share the Catholic perspective on four issues, two domestic, two international. (See the Hill Notes. Organizers suggested that those who couldn't get meetings because of the storm take their materials home and meet with their Congress people later.)

This year the domestic focuses were, not surprisingly, health care and comprehensive immigration reform, with an added push for the jobs bill, which was to be up for debate this week (if anything can get through the snow).

Participants also lobbied on international assistance,focusing on the two very different and very difficult situations of Haiti andAfghanistan.

Polling a few participants on their most important issues, immigration seemed to be the most popular response, followed by health care reform. (See video--first attempt at editing on an iPhone.) As one person said off camera, the international issues are just so difficult that it's hard to understand how you can really make a difference. 

In addition to Hill visits, the morning provided an opportunity to learn more about other social issues. For a glimpse into these, check out the U.S.Catholic's twitter feed (or just search the hashtag #catholicsmg2010), as I was rotating between them.

International sessions on Israel/Palestine and Sudan gave updates into these seemingly impossible conflicts. I found hope, however, in a session on extracting natural resources, which connected environmental degradation to human rights concerns, especially sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. New legislation might allow civil society to get to the root of violence. 

A domestic session on climate change also connected environmental concerns to poverty. At other sessions, participants learned about social safety net legislation that supports families and a new National Academy of Sciences measure for poverty that takes into account cost of living and not just income. A final domestic session provided the latest update in the health care debate, but we all still have to wait to see what comes from reconciliation between the House and Senate bills.

I will go more in depth into some of these issues as I wait out the snow to get out of Washington. (Three canceled flights in one week!) Feel free to ask policy questions in the comments and I'll try to find answers for you.