Why Advocates Think The Disabilities Treaty Can Pass This Time Around

Tomorrow, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding its second hearing this month on the UN Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities. The star witness is John Kerry, who is taking time off his frantic schedule of Middle East diplomacy to personally advocate for ratification.

Last year, the treaty shamefully failed to pass with the necessary two thirds majority required for treaty ratification.  It came 5 votes short. All Democrats voted in favor of the measure along with five Republicans.

So what is different this time around? For one, a diverse coalition businesses, veterans groups, and rights organizations are pushing far hard for treaty ratification. This coalition was not as forceful last time around because few expected the treaty to fail. “A lot of folks were caught by surprise,” says Tony Coelho, a former member of Congress who helped craft the Americans with Disabilities Act, upon which the treaty is modeled.  “It looked like we had the votes when it went to the floor.”

A number of social conservative raised concerns about the treaty based on false or misleading interpretations of the treaty’s effect on parents who homeschool their children, among other things.  That helped sway many Republicans to oppose the treaty, though in the end over 30 Republican senators signed a letter objecting not to the substance of the treaty, but to the fact that it was being brought up for a vote during a lame duck session.  That sank the treaty, despite high profile support for ratification by Bob Dole and Bill Frist, two former GOP leaders in the Senate.

Both former Senators are once again lobbying for ratification, and this time they have robust support from a diverse coalition of organizations — raging from NASCAR to the American Legion; American Chamber of Commerce, Red Cross and Human Rights Watch.  The American Legion, which is the USA’s largest veterans group, passed a resolution at its recent national convention in August endorsing ratification and is encouraging its members to lobby the Senate.

“We need about 14 or 15 Republicans. We are pretty close to that goal,” Bob Dole said on a conference call organized by Treaty supporters. “The treaty doesn’t cost us anything. We don’t change any laws. It’s something that should have been done along time ago. “