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Disabilities treaty gets a second chance

The Senate will get a second chance to do the right thing on the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. But will it pass?
Image: Elizabeth Dole Loses Re-Election Bid
FILE - 27 NOVEMBER 2012: Bob Dole, the former long-time leader of the U.S. Senate and 1996 Republican presidential nominee, has been hospitalized at Walter...
It's always a shame when good legislation dies for no reason, but some setbacks are more disappointing than others. In late 2012, for example, proponents of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities thought they had enough votes for ratification. They were wrong.
Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), a champion of the measure, made a rare appearance in the chamber just before the vote, sitting in a wheelchair just off the floor so that members would have to see him as they entered. Dole hoped to send a message to senators: do the right thing.
It didn't work. Some Senate Republicans who knew right-wing conspiracy theories about the treaty were wrong nevertheless voted to kill it, betraying Dole because they feared the GOP's far-right base. John Kerry, before his departure from the Senate, said at the time it was one of the saddest days of his career.
Members will, however, get a second chance to do the right thing.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday approved a United Nations treaty to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. The committee approved the treaty on a 12-6 vote. All Democrats approved along with Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and John Barrasso (Wyo.). [...] "When we lead, the world follows, and only the United States can show the way in raising worldwide accessibility to the American standard," committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement after the vote.

Part of the frustration with this debate is that opponents are playing such a weak hand -- but may win anyway.
The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, for those who've forgotten, is a human rights treaty negotiated by the George H.W. Bush administration, which has been ratified by 126 nations, including countries like China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, which are often reluctant to back international measures.
What's more, the treaty wouldn't actually require the United States to do anything except endorse the treaty itself. We already have the Americans with Disabilities Act, which helped set an international standard, and the treaty encourages others to follow America's lead.
But the right has balked anyway. In 2012, the final vote was 61 to 38, which may have seemed lopsided and bipartisan, but which fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to ratify treaties. All 38 opponents were far-right Republicans.
Will it fare any better in 2014? Proponents realize they have an uphill climb ahead of them -- they'll need 12 GOP votes and they appear to have roughly half that number.
The main opponents of the treaty are Rick Santorum and home-school advocates, who have some very odd ideas.

Their concerns, rather, came from the dark world of U.N. conspiracy theories. The opponents argue that the treaty, like most everything the United Nations does, undermines American sovereignty -- in this case via a plot to keep Americans from home-schooling their children and making other decisions about their well-being. The treaty does no such thing; if it had such sinister aims, it surely wouldn't have the support of disabilities and veterans groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Republican senators such as John McCain (Ariz.) and John Barrasso (Wyo.), and conservative legal minds such as Boyden Gray and Dick Thornburgh.

The treaty will get a second chance on the Senate floor sometime this year. Watch this space.