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January 22, 2014

Obama, Pope share economic views

(Continued)

Paul Begala, a former top aide to President Bill Clinton, said Obama can only benefit from Francis’ emphasis on economic disparities.

“It becomes very difficult for conservatives to attack President Obama for being divisive, when the world’s greatest figure for unity is saying pretty much the same thing,” Begala said.

Still, Francis’ attention to poverty has also captured the attention of Republicans, among them Rep. Paul Ryan, a devout Catholic and Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012. Other Republicans, such as Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky have also staked out prominent anti-poverty positions.

The economic theme will be a centerpiece of Obama’s State of the Union address next week. But his specific policies — a higher minimum wage, universal pre-school and ending loopholes for the wealthy — face difficulty in Congress in an election year.

“American Catholics as a whole don’t tend to take specific policy guidance from the pope, whether it’s Pope Benedict or Pope Francis,” Green said. “But what the pope can do is to get them thinking about particular issues and thinking about them in distinctly Catholic ways. That kind of rethinking could very well be an advantage to President Obama.”

The issue of health care has highlighted other disagreements between the administration and the Catholic Church. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been a high-profile critic of a provision in Obama’s health care law that requires employers to provide insurance coverage that includes birth control.

Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the control requirement, but affiliated institutions that serve the general public are not. That includes charitable organizations, universities and hospitals, and critics say that violates religious liberty. The issue is now before the Supreme Court.

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