GOP senators stop treaty on disabled rights

Even though all Democrats and eight Republicans voted in favor, the U.S. Senate could not reach the two-thirds majority needed to ratify Dec. 4 the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, itself largely based off of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The failure to ratify the treaty disappointed the disabled and their advocates, including former Republican Sen. Bob Dole, who was on the floor of the Senate to urge ratification. Dole was a sponsor of the ADA, which was signed into law by the first President George Bush.

Republicans who voted for the treaty were the four from New England, John McCain of Arizona, Richard Lugar of Indiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John Barrasso of Wyoming.

The failure to ratify also put the U.S. in the minority: 126 other countries had signed and ratified the treaty as of November, said the UN news agency.

According to Ted Kennedy Jr., the son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and board member of the American Association of People With Disabilities (AAPD), more than 21 veterans’ organizations had endorsed the treaty. Speaking on several talk shows, he also noted the Chamber of Commerce’s backing.

Speaking for his organization, AAPD President and CEO Mark Perriello said in a press release the day of the vote, “Today’s defeat of the CRPD squanders the opportunity to export the very best the United States has to offer. AAPD will continue to engage the grassroots and educate members of Congress to ensure that the treaty passes.”

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., one of the leading proponents of the treaty and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the same day, “This is one of the saddest days I’ve seen in almost 28 years in the Senate, and it needs to be a wake-up call about a broken institution that’s letting down the American people.

Referring to his legislative chamger, Kerry added, “We need to fix this place, because what happens and doesn’t happen here affects millions of lives.”

The treaty originally had strong bipartisan support. It was negotiated by President George W. Bush and then signed by President Barack Obama. It was moved out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Nov. 27 also with bipartisan support, but, according to AAPD, “right-wing activists prioritized fear of the United Nations over basic human dignity.”

The opposition to the treaty was led by conservative Republicans, who argued that signing the treaty would harm the sovereignty of the United States.

Former Senator and failed Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was the most outspoken opponent of the treaty. He argued that the treaty could even allow “bureaucrats in Geneva,” where the main non-New York UN office is located, to separate parents from their children, force abortions and affect home schooling.

Santorum’s claims carried weight with Republicans – but they were false. States that signed on to the treaty effectively agree to ensure that the disabled have basically the same rights that they do in the U.S. States further pledge to work to include the disabled as functioning members of society and combat prejudice.

When proponents of the treaty heard that Republicans were worried about these issues, they added provisions that explicitly stated that the treaty would have no bearing on and could not be enforced by U.S. courts.

Sen. Kerry had been optimistic about passage beforehand, saying, “We have the opportunity to help ensure that millions of disabled Americans – our wounded service members included – are treated with the same level of respect and dignity they have at home while they are traveling or living abroad. If any issue can withstand this age of polarization, it should be this one.”

“There is no way requirement in this treaty whatsoever that any law in the United States would be changed, no new right would be created that doesn’t exist already in the United States and most importantly because of the terminology of the treaty, the treaty language, that it’s not self-executing, that means nobody has recourse in any court in the United States of America to enforce the treaty,” he said, speaking on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews.

“You might ask, why sign up to the treaty, then?” Kerry continued. “The reason is this treaty is based on the gold standard of how America treats people with disabilities. It’s based on Americans with Disabilities Act and raises other countries to our standard. It’s really exporting American sovereignty to other nations. It’s exporting our values… These senators turned their back on that out of completely fictitious, totally made up, entirely fear marketing rationale. We have to change that and we will.”

Americans, Kerry said, would benefit when visiting abroad. For example, they would b more likely to encounter buses with accessible entrances. Further, the treaty would benefit millions around the world. According to a UN factsheet, about 10 percent of the world’s population – 650 million people – are living with disabilities.

Kerry has vowed to re-introduce the treaty during the next Congress, to be inaugurated Jan. 1.

Photo: Sen. Kerry speaking on Senate floor, via his website.