In general, and whether it's true or not, Republicans tend to oppose federal regulation on the grounds that regulation imposes heavy burdens on businesses. In 1990, opponents to the ADA, such as they were, made precisely this argument. And they weren't wrong! Requiring places of business to accommodate disabled people is an obviously worthy undertaking, but it isn't necessarily a cheap or easy thing to do. It's not that the burdensome-to-business objection is a red herring exactly, but the ADA shows that once upon a time not too long ago, Republicans in Congress were happy to override that objection if they viewed the underlying regulatory goals as particularly worthy.
Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) was on Capitol Hill yesterday for a bipartisan event celebrating this week's 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law, which has done so much to improve the lives of millions of Americans, is "the sort of big bipartisan triumph of yore that now seems unimaginable," the Washington Post's Dana Milbank noted this morning.
This truth did not elude Dole, the 92-year-old war hero now bound to a wheelchair, who's occasionally candid about his disappointment in today's radicalized Republican Party. Referring to the dozens of congressional Republicans who simply refuse to compromise, Dole said yesterday, "I don't know what they are."
But it's against this backdrop that The New Republic's Brian Beutler considered whether the Americans with Disabilities Act would pass in Congress "if it were introduced as new legislation today."
Well said. The arguments against the ADA were rooted in fact -- requiring businesses to spend money accommodating the needs of people with disabilities is expensive -- but a quarter of a century ago, Democrats and Republicans agreed that it was a burden worth imposing on the private sector.
In contemporary politics, for purely ideological reasons, GOP lawmakers tend to think any government-imposed burden on business is offensive, if not literally unconstitutional. It's the difference between a center-right party in 1990 and a radicalized party in 2015.
Indeed, the evidence is hard to deny. Consider what happened in 2012.
The U.S. Senate was poised to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, and Dole personally went to Capitol Hill to plead with Republicans to do the right thing.
It didn't work. Even though the treaty wouldn't have required the United States to do anything -- the point was to raise the international standard to comport with our ADA -- Republican senators believed right-wing conspiracy theories about "sovereignty" threats and promptly killed the measure. Three current Republican presidential candidates were on the Senate floor that day -- Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and Rand Paul -- and each of them voted with the far-right to reject the treaty.
If GOP lawmakers weren't even prepared to endorse the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, the Americans with Disability Act itself wouldn't stand a chance.
But the broader takeaway is how easy it is to play this game on a wide range of issues. If Medicare didn't exist and it came to the floor today, would Republicans approve it? Given that it's a system of socialized insurance for millions, I suspect the answer is obvious. Social Security almost certainly wouldn't come close to passing, either.
The Voting Rights Act obviously wouldn't pass if it were first proposed today, and it's a safe bet that the minimum wage and the Clean Air Act wouldn't even clear committee.
To be sure, today's Republicans probably won't try to actively eliminate every governmental pillar of modern American life, but to listen to GOP leaders, if Republicans control Congress and the White House in 2017, quite a few of these landmark laws and programs are in serious jeopardy.
The ADA's 25th anniversary is well worth celebrating because of its impact on Americans' lives, but also because it's a reminder of a policymaking process that was possible before the radicalization of Republican politics.