It is hard to believe that Pope Francis was in Washington just 10 weeks ago. It was a joyous moment to watch the leader of my Church urge all Americans, including politicians, to work together on behalf of the common good. I felt particularly fortunate to be inside the chamber for his historic speech to Congress. Only in hindsight can I pinpoint what I found truly extraordinary: for a brief moment, I watched as the polarized politics of our Capitol stopped. Both Republicans and Democrats welcomed Francis's message and the conversation shifted toward creating an economy that works for everyone.
In these final days of 2015, members of Congress and the Obama administration would do well to reflect on that moment and the lessons he shared as they attempt to wrap up key legislative priorities this month.
"You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk."
This year my organization, NETWORK, and other members of the faith community, have been urging Congress to make the 2009 improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) permanent in 2015. These working family tax credits are two of the strongest tools we have to help low income families make ends meet, escape poverty, and become self-sufficient. It is troubling that Congress appears unable or unwilling to negotiate to make this a reality. If Congress fails to act, over 50 million Americans -- including 25 million children -- will be at risk of slipping deeper into financial vulnerability. There is so much fear and little trust in each other that Congress finds it difficult to identify common ground on this important issue.
Pope Francis was all too aware of this dynamic when he urged Congress to confront every form of polarization that divides. This is not easy work. Democrats and Republicans hold deep differences on how to "form a more perfect Union." Here too, however, Pope Francis urges some sage advice: "The complexity, the gravity, and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect to our differences and our convictions of conscience."
Yes, disagreements are a valuable part of the process, but Congressional leaders must make it a priority to bridge divides and work together for the benefit of all, with specific care for the most vulnerable. We need Congress to make the expiring provisions of these credits permanent this year. Not only is this consistent with Pope Francis's message, but also with our greater responsibility and obligation to advance the common good.