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GOP Opposition Defeats Treaty Protecting Rights of Disabled

Treaty modeled after Americans for Disabilities Act fails to get two-thirds majority in Senate vote

Common Dreams staff

Former Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole (in wheelchair) on the Senate floor before the vote on Tuesday.

The Senate rejected on Tuesday a treaty that protects the rights of disabled people after encountering strong Republican opposition.

The 61-38 vote failed to reach a two-thirds majority needed to ratify The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. All 38 votes rejecting the measure are from Republicans.

Agence France-Presse reports that the treaty merely "codifies in international law many of the rights already afforded under the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA), a US law passed in 1990."

Deborah J. Vagins, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, was disappointed in the vote, saying, "This treaty articulates principles and goals that no one should oppose – those of inclusion, recognition and respect for human dignity and individual autonomy, accessibility, and the equal enjoyment of rights and fundamental freedoms."

But watchdog group Media Matters for America reports that in the lead-up to the vote, "conservative media revived the debunked myth that the treaty threatens U.S. sovereignty."  Media Matters continues:

Conservative media claim that signing the treaty would require the United States to alter its laws to meet these standards. Writing at National Review Online, the National Review Institute's Betsy Woodruff claimed that the treaty "could potentially undermine American sovereignty" and said it would be "self-abasing" for the U.S. "to comply with the treaty." Similarly, at the Daily Caller, Walter Olson of the Cato Institute equated signing the treaty with "sign[ing] away our national sovereignty on questions of how best to accommodate the disabled."

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla), who cast a no vote, added: "I do not support the cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American society."

But the treaty has Republican supporters, including former Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole, who made an appearance before the vote to urge lawmakers to ratify the treaty. Politico reports:

Dole, who was in wheelchair, came to the floor shortly before senators began to vote. Accompanied by his wife, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, he listened as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) made a final push for the treaty. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) walked over to greet Dole, smiling and patting Dole’s back.

In a touching moment, Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), who also uses a wheelchair and has publicly urged the Senate to ratify the treaty, joined Dole at one point, holding hands with him as they talked and listened to Kerry.

"This is one of the saddest days I’ve seen in almost 28 years in the Senate and it needs to be a wakeup call about a broken institution that's letting down the American people," said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in a statement after the vote.

"We need to fix this place because what happens and doesn’t happen here affects millions of lives. Today the dysfunction hurt veterans and the disabled and that’s unacceptable. This treaty was supported by every veterans group in America and Bob Dole made an inspiring and courageous personal journey back to the Senate to fight for it. It had bipartisan support, and it had the facts on its side, and yet for one ugly vote, none of that seemed to matter. We won’t give up on this and the Disabilities Treaty will pass because it’s the right thing to do, but today I understand better than ever before why Americans have such disdain for Congress and just how much must happen to fix the Senate so we can act on the real interests of our country," stated Kerry.

The treaty is signed by 155 countries and ratified by 126.

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