Dems urge Pope Francis to highlight income inequality during visit

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A coalition of House Democrats wants Pope Francis to focus on how to address income inequality during his historic address to Congress later this month.

More than 90 lawmakers signed on to a letter spearheaded by liberal Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who has made food stamp-funding and other government assistance one of her signature issues in Congress.

The lawmakers expressed hope that Pope Francis, who has built his image as an advocate for people in poverty, would bring attention to policies they've pushed for years during his Sept. 24 address.

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"Your powerful example of solidarity with the poor and the marginalized will undoubtedly help inform our current debates around major U.S. policy affecting all Americans," they wrote in the letter.

"Your message of hope could not come at a more crucial time, in particular to those in our nation that are struggling on a minimum wage salary, or relying on public assistance to put food on the table."

The letter to the Vatican is dated from Aug. 12 but was not made public until this week.

In the letter, the lawmakers cited cuts to food stamps, the lack of an increase in the minimum wage since 2009 and inconsistent availability of paid sick leave as contributors to income inequality in the U.S. The House Democrats notably refrained from specifically calling out Republicans for opposing a minimum wage increase, saying only that "some in the U.S. Congress have refused to prioritize" it.

The House Democrats further praised the pontiff's encyclical earlier this year on climate change and again offered a subtle jab at lawmakers — primarily Republicans — who oppose the Obama administration's environmental initiatives.

"Here too we struggle as a nation because the U.S. Congress continues to enact a national budget for 2015 that requires that national agencies promote coal fired plants abroad and directs 'no funds may be available for the Green Climate Fund' to help developing nations deal with the impact of climate change," they wrote.

The GOP-led House Appropriations Committee produced a State Department spending bill earlier this year that would eliminate funding for the Green Climate Fund, along with the Strategic Climate Fund and Clean Technology Fund. The panel explained in a statement upon releasing the legislation that the cuts were included in order to ensure enough funding for global security operations.

In addition to his speech before Congress — the first ever by a pope — Francis will meet with President Obama at the White House and conduct mass at the Washington Basilica during his D.C. visit. He also plans to meet with a group of homeless people at a D.C. parish later in the day after speaking to members of Congress.