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Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, which included an address to the joint session of Congress, overshadowed everything this week — except perhaps House Speaker John Boehner’s subsequent resignation.

Through it all, efforts continued to prevent a government shutdown next week that would touch nearly every American, beginning with food stamp recipients who would lose their benefits immediately. The Senate also held a hearing this week to grill the CEO’s of Aetna and Anthem about their plans to merge with Humana and Cigna, respectively.

Pope Francis brings message of reconciliation, need to help poor and address climate change

On his first visit to the United States — and any pope’s first address to Congress –Pope Francis brought messages both Democrats and Republicans could love, pressing for the need to accept immigrants, help refugees, take quick action on climate change and to oppose abortion and all but traditional marriages. The entire Connecticut delegation gave the pope a “thumb’s up,” and his Washington visit drew many Connecticut Catholics, including Gov. Dannel Malloy and Sister Peggy Evans, a teacher at East Catholic High School in Manchester. “He lived up to all my expectations,” Evans said.

 Federal officials say food stamps recipients would be early victims of a government shutdown

Concerned about the possibility of a government shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture officials told Connecticut’s Department of Social Services to stop processing food stamp benefits. The USDA changed its mind a week later, telling state agencies to resume processing the benefits for October, but warned them they might freeze those benefits if there’s a shutdown next week. The USDA also urged food stamp recipients to spend all of their September benefits right away, since a shutdown would mean they could not spend leftover benefits next month. There are about 430,000 food stamp recipients in Connecticut.

 Aetna CEO Bertolini, Anthem CEO Swedish, grilled over proposed mergers with Humana and Cigna

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, especially Democrats like Sen. Richard Blumenthal, posed tough questions to Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini and Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish about their plans to merge with Humana and Cigna, respectively. “I am deeply concerned about these mergers because of their potential effect on competition and the consolidation of power in fewer hands,” Blumenthal said. Lawmakers can’t stop the mergers, unless they approve an act of Congress that would do so. But they can put pressure on the Justice Department’s anti-trust division, which is reviewing the mergers.

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Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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