Senate to Take Another Shot at Disabilities Treaty

The Senate is going to take another shot at ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. On a conference call with reporters today, Senate Foreign Relations Chair Robert Menendez said he was planning a new push for ratification, kicking off with hearings next Tuesday.

On December 4 2012 the treaty failed by 5 votes to garner the 66 votes necessary for ratification. All Democrats voted in favor, as did 8 Republicans.  So what will be different this time around that makes Sen Menendez believe this has a shot of ratification?

“There are a universe of people who have not made their opinion known,” says Menendez. Among others, that includes Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona a Republican from Arizona. His fellow Arizona Senator, John McCain, is a staunch supporter of the treaty. Also, adds Menedez “the last time there was of people who objected to the treaty because they believed it should not have been brought up on lame duck session.” That justification would no longer be applicable.

In 2012 the Republicans who supported the treaty included:  Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine), Dick Lugar (Ind.), John McCain (Ariz.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). Of these Senators, Scott Brown, Dick Lugar and Olympia Snowe have left the Senate, but were replaced by two Democrats and an independent who are likely “yes” votes. The only “no” vote to leave the Senate and be replaced by a likely “yes” vote is the Republican Pete Domenici, who was replaced by  Democrat Martin Heinrich.

That still leaves the the disabilities treaty 4 to 5 votes shy of ratification. Menedez believes that deficit can be overcome. On Tuesday’s hearing, a number of prominent Republicans will be testifying in support of the treaty, including former Reagan era Attorney General Dick Thornburg and former Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge. Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte will read a statement from Bob Dole, says Menedez.  Also auguring in favor of ratification is renewed attention to the treaty by veterans groups which support the treaty because it helps ensure that disabled veterans who travel abroad have similar access as they do in the United States.

The Disabilities Treaty is modeled on the Americans with Disabilities Act, which the US passed in 1990. It calls on countries to provide basic services for people with physical and intellectual impairments. Ratification would not change anything about how persons with disabilities are treated here in the USA , but it ratification would set a good example for the rest of the world where the rights of persons with disability are not protected. It would also help Americans with disabilities as they travel to other countries to make sure that there is some minimum accessibility standards.  It is fairly uncontroversial.  Or at least it was, before treaty opponents began leveling unfair and untrue criticisms of the treaty intended to animate social conservatives.

“Proponents of the treaty will be discussing the treaty itself,” says Menendez. “The opponents will be talking about red herrings. For example, they will try to re litigate Roe v Wade even through the treaty doesn’t talk to reproductive rights whatsoever. They will say the treaty infringes on US sovereignty even through it has no enforcement mechanism.”

Rejection of the Disability Treaty last year was a new low for the scare mongering anti-UN crowd. If the treaty succeeds this time around–and that is by no means assured — it would be a good step in the direction of responsible global engagement, and away from conspiracy minded isolationism.